An international association honored an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Thursday, calling his work “outstanding.”
The Zebrafish Disease Models Society presented Gaurav Varshney, Ph.D., with its Junior Faculty Award for Excellence. The organization’s president, Richard White, M.D., Ph.D., presented the award during the society’s annual conference in Sheffield, England.
White said Varshney’s zebrafish research provided a new understanding of a genetic variant scientists have shown to play a role in neurodevelopmental diseases and hearing loss in humans.
“Each year, the Zebrafish Disease Models Society selects one investigator whose work represents true excellence in the field,” said White, who studies zebrafish models of cancer at New York’s Sloan Kettering Institute. “In this case, we chose Dr. Varshney because of his outstanding paper related to the gene KARS1, which was published in Genetics in Medicine. Using zebrafish, Dr. Varshney established a powerful new model in which to study the details of this gene, which will ultimately lead to a better understanding of the gene and help design better treatments for these patients.”
The paperclip-sized zebrafish, a member of the minnow family, has a counterpart gene for about 80% of all human disease genes. Varshney’s current focus is on understudied genes implicated in conditions including hearing loss and autism.
His lab uses the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 to turn off individual genes in the tiny fish. Observing what happens when that single gene isn’t working will give researchers clues about how it might affect human development.
Varshney joined OMRF’s Genes and Human Disease Research Program in 2017 from the National Institutes of Health.
“This is significant recognition from the scientific community,” said OMRF Vice President of Research Rod McEver, M.D. “Dr. Varshney is sharp and creative, and early in his career, he has charted a path into relatively untouched research areas. We are excited to see where his studies lead.”