Ms Freja Ekman (2018)
With the modernization of medicine, we as a global community need to reevaluate the ostracization of people with disabilities and rare genetic disorders. Growing up with a close friend with autism, I witnessed firsthand the bullying that many people with disabilities experience. This sparked my passion for both genome engineering research and disability advocacy. During my undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, my interests further grew as I helped develop CRISPR-Cas9-based gene therapy to treat Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in vivo. However, there currently exists a large disconnect between the development of novel gene therapies in academic research labs and their feasibility in clinical applications. The treatment of genetic disorders is plagued by off-target effects and autoimmune responses, the long-term effects of which are often neglected. During my time in the translational biomedical research program at Cambridge, I hope to gain the necessary skills to help bridge the gap between genome engineering and the pathophysiology seen in the clinic. Additionally, I hope to continue to foster and advocate for a more inclusive environment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Outside of my studies, I enjoy long distance running, teaching, and exploring the outdoors. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the Gates Cambridge community and look forward to upholding its ideals and values.