A North Hall High graduate has earned a prestigious scholarship to continue his studies at a joint program between the National Institutes of Health and Cambridge University.
Leland Taylor, valedictorian of the North Hall class of 2008, recently graduated from Davidson College with a degree in computational biology, and is now pursuing his Ph.D. in genetics and bioinformatics as part of the NIH-Cambridge Scholars Program, an accelerated doctoral training program of science students in biomedical research.
Taylor said his time at North Hall, particularly a calculus class taught by Jeff Chandler, began his track down this career path.
“It really stood out to me,” Taylor said. “It integrated math into real-life problems, and that really appealed to me and set me on the track of beginning to think about integrating math, computer science and biology, which ultimately ... defined my college career and (led to) me doing what I’m doing now.”
He is currently in Maryland researching the “underlying ideology” of Type 2 diabetes.
“Over 300 million people worldwide are affected by the disease,” Taylor said, adding it’s the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.
“We have been able to use genetic studies to identify genetic variation that is associated with Type 2 diabetes,” Taylor said.
“So, the idea is that we can use the genetic markers as clues to start to probe and understand the underlying etiology behind Type 2 diabetes. So that’s really what my work is going to be focused on for the next four years, is translating these genetic variants that are associated with Type 2 diabetes into an understanding of the causes.”
He said once the development of the disease is understood, more effective treatments can be developed.
Taylor is conducting his research in the laboratory of Francis Collins, at the National Human Genome Research Institute. As part of the NIH-Cambridge Scholars Program, he will also work under the supervision of Ewan Birney, associate director of the European Bioinformatics Institute.
Chandler said it was great to hear that Taylor said his calculus class had such an impact.
“That’s why I do this job,” he said. “(Taylor) was remarkably insightful, and a top-notch student.”
Chandler said he remembers Taylor being “exceptionally bright.”
Taylor himself advises current high school students, at North Hall and elsewhere, to take advantage of the resources available to them. He suggests finding a mentor and asking as many people as possible for their advice.
“Don’t be afraid of trying new experiences because you might just find something,” he added. “That’s my experience, of (trying) computational biology and realiz(ing), ‘Holy cow, this is a field I’m really passionate about and have the opportunity to make some impact here.”