UOG alumna secures a competitive $42K fellowship for cardiovascular research
Althea Tapales, a 2018 alumna from the University of Guam who is now attending medical school at the University of Vermont, has been awarded the Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Fellowship for 2023–2024. It’s a fully funded dedicated research opportunity that she said will be pivotal toward her long-term career goal of returning home to Guam to work as a physician-scientist.
Tapales is one of 16 medical students nationwide to have been awarded the Sarnoff fellowship this year. It provides her with a $42,000 stipend to carry out her proposed research project at a laboratory of her choice. She has chosen Dr. Euan Ashley’s lab at Stanford Medical Center of Stanford University (Calif.), and her research will investigate cardiac disease through genetic and stem cell research.
“The year-long fellowship […] will provide me with the essential support and preparatory training I need to become fully competent in conducting future research independently and reinforce my inclination to establish a research-focused academic career in cardiovascular medicine on Guam,” she said.
Despite cardiovascular disease being the number one killer in Guam, cardiac surgery on island is currently not an option. And when it was available in the past, it was offered only temporarily when off-island cardiothoracic surgeons visited.
This is why Tapales aspires to pioneer Micronesia’s first permanent cardiothoracic surgery clinic. In addition, she hopes to establish Guam’s first Cardiovascular Research Institute of Vermont chapter and a cardiovascular biomedical lab at the University of Guam as a vital step to eradicating barriers in Pacific Islanders’ cardiovascular health.
Heading into her fellowship, she said she is excited to learn how to recognize problems in clinical medicine, apply basic science to find solutions, and implement new discoveries into practice to improve health outcomes.
Tapales’ journey to medical school started in the chemistry and biology programs at UOG, where she was the first student to graduate under the chemistry-biology dual degree track. She said the dual track provided her with fundamental knowledge needed to prepare for the MCAT, the entrance exam required for medical school.
Additionally, she said the faculty at UOG’s College of Natural & Applied Sciences provided her with essential guidance and mentorship that played a big part in where she is today.
“UOG offered a plethora of extracurricular opportunities to get involved with the community through various organizations, which permitted me to build my character as an individual, develop vital leadership skills, and get involved in servicing learning opportunities in order to become a well-rounded individual,” she said.
Now, it’s her turn to be a mentor, and she considers this fellowship a key opportunity “to foster inspiration and curiosity” in innovative research in the next generation, in particular in cardiovascular medicine.
After completing her fellowship, she will have one year left at the Larner College of Medicine at The University of Vermont before graduating in 2025.