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Divya Bezwada

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Cancer biologist Divya Bezwada says her parents instilled in her the importance of pursuing a life of service — her career path just didn’t turn out the way they thought. 

In high school, Bezwada thought she wanted to become a doctor, “like many Indian kids.” But when she got to the University of Virginia, one of her professors noticed that Bezwada really liked doing research. Steered in that direction, Bezwada was able to get into a lab right before graduating college, and 10 years later, she doesn’t see herself doing anything else.

“I really like the fact that I don’t know necessarily what every day is going to hold,” Bezwada said.

Earlier in her career, as a lab technician at Massachusetts General Hospital, Bezwada found that she liked cancer biology. She was interested in how cancer cells used metabolism to adapt and survive when they spread or metastasized.

More recently, working with patients and surgeons, Bezwada continued the work of Ralph DeBerardinis at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, using isotope tracers, like carbon-13 mixed with glucose, to study how kidney tumors use nutrients before being removed by surgery. 

In a soon-to-be published paper, she recently found that increasing mitochondrial function increases metastasis in mice, while the opposite happens when mitochondrial metabolism is inhibited. In the future, she hopes that understanding mitochondrial metabolism could lead to cancer therapies that will help patients, so that they will make it to their child’s wedding or a birthday. Bezwada thinks of her work as service to the scientific community: “I just wanted to be of help to somebody.”

— Deborah Balthazar