May 22, 2019
Aastha Pokharel ‘19, a Public Health Sciences and Biochemistry double major, is among six undergraduates selected as spring 2019 Rising Researchers. The Rising Researcher program celebrates undergraduate students who excel in research, scholarship or creative activity. The 2018-19 recipients were honored at the chancellor’s residence in April.
Pokharel joined Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences Laura Vandenberg’s lab as a STEM Ambassador, a program that helps connect underrepresented minority students with research advisors. Under Vandenberg’s direction, Pokharel conducted two independent projects investigating environmental influences on mammary gland function and development.
Her first project examined the natural left-right asymmetry of the developing mammary gland.
“Aastha’s work demonstrated that the left and right glands have inherent differences – their size and proliferation rates are different. This research is important because there is a left/right bias in breast cancer risk,” says Vandenberg. Pokharel’s results have been published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, with Pokharel as first author.
“My research experience at UMass Amherst has been a transformative experience, to say the least… [it] has not only expanded my knowledge in the field of environmental health sciences, but, with the completion of every project and every accomplishment along the way, has given me more confidence in my abilities,” says Pokharel.
Her second project, which characterized the effects of environmental history on growth parameters in the mouse mammary gland, also resulted in a journal article with Pokharel as second author. She and Vandenberg are now in the process of converting her thesis into a manuscript for publication.
A May 2019 graduate, Pokharel is enrolled in the 4+1 M.S. Environmental Health Sciences program and will return to complete her graduate degree in the fall.