Meet the UCSD Scholars Accelerating Women’s Health Research

Meet the UCSD Scholars Accelerating Women’s Health Research


• Howell Foundation announces the 2022 Howell-UCSD Scholarship Awards.
• A positive impact on women’s health starts with research.

A key component of addressing gender disparities in women’s health research is the ability to fund seed grants to undergraduate and graduate students. By financially supporting studies focused on issues affecting women’s health, the Howell Foundation seeks to accelerate scientific research that will benefit the health of women in our community.

With the awards announced in May of each year, the Howell Foundation’s mission and vision are firmly rooted in our affiliation with UCSD’s School of Medicine through the renowned pediatric hematologist/oncologist Doris A. Howell, M.D., in whose honor the organization was founded.

“These exceptional UCSD Scholars are addressing women’s health-related issues throughout their career”, comments Carol Tuggey, Chair Person for the Foundation. “They are a true representation of Dr. Howell’s vision and our guiding principle of keeping the women we love healthy. By addressing research pertaining to women’s health, they accelerate women’s health research that, in the future, will positively affect the health of women in our community. Who knows! The potential of discovering the next breakthrough in scientific research may come from any of our very talented pool of awardees!”

We congratulate the 2022 Howell-UCSD Scholars, and look forward to hearing about the results of their research in the future.


Gabrielle Scott – Development of a Clinical Pelvic Model and Experimental Method to Measure Pressure Distribution of Expandable Dilators under Different Vaginal Stenosis Conditions
Mentor: Frank Talke

Vaginal stenosis (VS) is a common late complication of radiation injury caused by cervical cancer radiotherapy. It is characterized by the narrowing or shortening of the vaginal canal, which is often detrimental to patients’ quality of life. It can lead to discomfort, painful sexual intercourse and, in severe cases, prevents physicians from examining patients for further tumor growth. To address this public health issue, an expandable vaginal dilator was designed for the prevention of VS in cervical cancer survivors. This project aims to develop clinically significant pelvic models affected by varying degrees of stenosis to evaluate the designed vaginal dilators in vitro using silicone molding and additive manufacturing techniques. Clinical Relevance—developing an in vitro pelvic model– will provide quantitative data on the pressure, expansion, and applied load that will, in turn, estimate effectiveness and facilitate iteration on expandable dilator prototypes.

Hayelin (Jacklyn) Jung- How Stress Affects Blood Glucose Levels
Mentor: Kellie Breen Church

Stress-induced hyperglycemia is the acute and momentary rise in blood glucose during illness, which occurs regardless of diabetic status. It was recently found that a brainstem population, VLMNE cells, are an important component in the neural control of stress-induced hyperglycemia. It was shown that VLMNE neurons were necessary for either psychosocial or immune stress-induced hyperglycemia. Through this project, we hope to test the hypothesis that PVNUCN2 cells are necessary for activation of VLMNE cells and stress-induced hyperglycemia. We will use a novel CRISPR/SaCas9 approach to disrupt the UCN2 gene within the PVN of adult mice to determine if this signaling molecule is necessary for activation of VLM cells and hyperglycemia during stress.

Jason Yang – Investigation of the Necessity of AVPV Kiss1 Neurons during the preovulatory for GnRH/LH Surge in Female Mice
Mentor: Dr. Alexander Kauffman

Fertility depends heavily on the neuroendocrine reproductive axis that begins with GnRH neurons in the brain that stimulate the pituitary to secrete LH and FSH hormones which then activate the gonads. The ovulation process, a key to female fertility, is known to be triggered by an estrogen-induced GnRH/LH surge secretion. Hypothalamic neurons that express kisspeptin are known to stimulate GnRH and LH and are found primarily in two separate brain regions: the arcuate nucleus (ARC) and the rostral periventricular area of the third ventricle (RP3V). Most Kiss1 neurons in the RP3V are stimulated by estrogen and co-express the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), while Kiss1 neurons in ARC do not coexpress TH. In this study, we hypothesize that RP3V Kiss1 neurons are necessary for LH surge generation. Most R3PV Kiss1 neurons will thus be expected to lack kisspeptin, while the ARC Kiss1 neurons should still express kisspeptin. This would provide insight into causes of infertility in females.

Kameswari Naga Sivani – Analyzing clinical and genomic data from smoking-related HNSCC patients to examine smoking-influenced changes in tRNA expression
Mentor: Dr. Weg Ongkeko

Smoking-induced carcinogenesis has been researched thoroughly and found to be a cause of many genomic alterations that eventually lead to the progression of HNSCC. This project aims to determine how changes in tRNA expression and activity may be affected by cigarette smoking in HNSCC patients. By measuring the changes in tRFs alongside clinical variables, we can predict HNSCC prognosis and survival chances by recognizing smoking-related tRNA expression pattern alterations.


Established in 1995, the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research accelerates research for the benefit of women’s health. By offering first hand knowledge to cutting-edge researchinspiring careers and funding research for the next scientific breakthrough in women’s health and partnering with community researchers to conduct research that benefits the  underserved community, the Howell Foundation strives to make a long-term positive impact on women’s health for the sake of women, their families and the communities in which they live.

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