A portrait photograph of a young man of Asian descent wearing glasses and a mauve shirt. The portrait is overlaid against an image of the skyline of Oxford University historic buildings.
Dr Ashwin Jainarayanan.

Dr Ashwin Jainarayanan selected for 2024 Schmidt Science Fellow program

Dr Ashwin Jainarayanan has been selected to become a 2024 Schmidt Science Fellow – an honour bestowed on only 32 exceptional early career researchers worldwide. The 2024 Fellows, nominated by 26 of the world’s leading institutions across North America, Europe, and Asia, were chosen for their potential to drive sector-wide change by pursuing ambitious interdisciplinary science projects.

Receiving this award is a tremendous honour. It affirms my commitment to pursuing innovative solutions in the field of neuroimmunology and encourages me to push the boundaries of my research. This shift allows me to explore the complex interactions between immune cells and brain cells, vital for deciphering the biology of aggressive brain cancers.

Dr Ashwin Jainarayanan

The Schmidt Science Fellows program was established in 2018 to identify the world’s best emerging scientists and equip them with the skills to become scientific and societal thought leaders, accelerating ground-breaking discoveries. The rigorous and highly-competitive selection process has a success rate of just under 10%. Candidates are expected to have a strong track record of scientific achievement from their PhD/DPhil studies, combined with a clear intellectual curiosity, a desire to drive future discoveries, and a commitment to making a lasting difference in the world.

For his DPhil in the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology at Oxford University, Ashwin specialised in immunology, focusing on characterising particles released into the immunological synapse – a nano-scale gap between T-cells and antigen-presenting cells. Leveraging this expertise, he engineered cytotoxic T-cells to release synthetic extracellular particles that specifically target and kill cancer cells.

As a 2024 Schmidt Science Fellow, Ashwin will undertake a year-long Science Leadership Program and receive up to $220,000 in funding for a one to two-year research placement. He intends to redirect his expertise in immunology to investigate a common and aggressive brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

This has been an exciting six months for Ashwin. He has earned his DPhil, founded a company, Granza Bio, and been named as a 2024 Schmidt Science Fellow. Ashwin is a dynamo with enormous enthusiasm for science and generating impact through publishing and translating his work to improve human health.

Professor Michael Dustin (The Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology), Ashwin’s primary DPhil supervisor

He said: ‘So far, my research in immunology and synthetic biology has focused on engineering T-cells to enhance their capacity to target and eliminate cancer. My pivot to neuroscience is driven by the unique challenges and opportunities presented by brain cancers where I believe my background in immunology can contribute to the development of innovative, targeted therapies.’

In particular, Ashwin aims to explore how GBM cells interact and connect with brain cells and the immune system, specifically examining the role of neurotransmitter activity in the tumour microenvironment. The ultimate goal is to engineer specialised T-cells or T cell-derived particles to target and disrupt these cancerous connections, offering a novel approach to GBM treatment.

Ashwin is already well-placed to translate the results of his research into new therapeutic applications, having co-founded the biotech startup Granza Bio shortly after completing his DPhil last year. The company aims to develop personalised and targeted cancer treatments using the body's own immune system. Their approach uses "attack particles” which are engineered to target and kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched, thus preventing any unwanted toxicity or side effects.

It's at the edges of things—ecosystems, borders, disciplines—where the most interesting ideas are developed, solutions that don't arise from any single approach. We're excited to welcome the 2024 cohort of Schmidt Science Fellows to approach these edges, look at problems anew, share insights with each other and the world and, we hope, go on to develop solutions to some of humanity's most pressing challenges.

Wendy Schmidt 

As a DPhil student in the Oxford Interdisciplinary Biosciences BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership, I was exposed to diverse scientific training opportunities, which had a great impact on my career’ Ashwin added. ‘I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the administrators of this programme, my DPhil supervisors, academic collaborators, mentors, and most of all, my family and friends for their unwavering support and encouragement. I am also thankful to the Schmidt Science Fellowship for giving me this opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of scientists, fostering interdisciplinary research, and enabling us to make a real impact.’

Schmidt Science Fellows is an initiative of Schmidt Sciences, a philanthropic organization founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt to advance exploration and discovery that deepen our understanding of the natural world and develop solutions to global issues. Each year, the Schmidt Science Fellows work in partnership with nearly 100 of the world’s leading science and engineering institutions to identify the best, brightest, and highest potential candidates to join the Fellowship. To learn more about Schmidt Science Fellows, visit the website.