Kavi Gandhi, a rising high school senior from Pennsylvania, has spent the summer of 2020 as an intern in Dr. Rich Steet’s laboratory at the Greenwood Genetic Center (GGC).
This summer, however, has been about more than a cool summer job or exploring careers in science. For Kavi, it means much more…
Kavi’s older brother, Yash, was diagnosed with Mucolipidosis II, also known as I-Cell disease at 11 months of age. Yash succumbed to this ultra-rare
disease which causes skeletal and heart issues as well as frequent respiratory infections, shortly before his 9th birthday. Yash’s parents, Ash and
Sonal, and his brother, Kavi, have kept Yash’s legacy alive with the creation of the Yash Gandhi Foundation which raises funds for ML II research at centers like GGC.
Below Kavi shares more about his drive and passion for science, specifically genetic research like that being done at GGC.
What is your role in the Yash Gandhi Foundation (YGF)?
Formally, my title with YGF is Development & Communications Coordinator, but I direct most of the Foundation’s operations (with the exception of taxes
and a few other tasks, which my parents help out with). My work includes planning our annual 5K fundraiser, managing our social media platforms (including
a rehaul of our Foundation website a few years back), soliciting donations and grants from individuals/corporations/organizations, maintaining contact
with donors and sponsors, and working to connect various members of the I-Cell community and providing opportunities for those affected by I-Cell to
share their stories and experiences.
Why did you choose to spend your summer working at GGC?
Over the past four years of my schooling, I have developed a passion for biology and hands-on scientific research. About a year ago, my mom asked me what
my dream job would be. My response was…
“Assuming that a cure/treatment hasn’t been discovered for I-Cell, my dream job is to work as an I-Cell researcher while also being the Executive Director of the Yash Gandhi Foundation to continue raising funds to support that research.”
I had recently come to the realization that my work with the Foundation and the work that we were supporting fell perfectly at the intersection of my passions/interests
in biology and business, so this career just felt perfect. From there, my mom took matters into her own hands and reached out to Dr. Steet to inquire
about me interning in his lab at GGC for the summer. When this opportunity came into fruition, I couldn’t think of a better way to take my work with
the Foundation to the next level and expand it to include my academic/career interests.
What have you learned from your experience at GGC?
Throughout my time at GGC, I have learned an incredible amount
about the molecular bases of ML II, the way the disease progresses in the body, and the discoveries that have been made to further understand the complexities
of the condition.
It has been fascinating to read through research papers (particularly those that describe some of the preliminary ground-breaking discoveries from Dr.
Stuart Kornfeld in the 80s) and to see how research has advanced in a very modular way to provide a more complete picture of this condition.
Being in the lab and learning about the various techniques that are used to conduct this research, both in cells and the zebrafish model, has also been
illuminating. Another piece that I think is invaluable is learning what it actually means to be a genetic researcher or a lab technician, and what
those jobs encompass on a day-to-day basis.
What are your plans after high school?
I’ll graduate from high school in 2021. Right now, I am in the thick of my college search and application process. I am looking mainly at smaller liberal
arts schools on the East Coast and I am hoping to study both biology and business.
What has it meant to you to be able to work on research that is so personal to you and your family?
Over the past years, myself and other members of the I-Cell community have worked tirelessly to raise funds to support work like that being done at GGC.
I always knew that the support our Foundation gave to researchers like Dr. Steet was important and powerful, but I had no concrete picture of what
that meant. Getting to spend time in the GGC labs and witnessing with my own eyes the important and revolutionary work that is being done has been
indescribably gratifying. Seeing how the work I have put into fundraising manifests itself at GGC and knowing that I played a small part in the advances
that are being made as we speak makes me very proud.