COM Freshman Will Attend Nobel Laureate Activities in December
Aswin Bikkani knew he wanted to do something scientific, but
his interests were quite diverse.
Biomedical engineering, technical drawing and medicine all
offered possibilities. Then a trio of summer shadowing experiences
in high school with a neonatologist, a pediatric nephrologist and a
clinical ethicist seemed to help Aswin somewhat narrow his
The 18-year-old from Westlake, Ohio, is among the first crop
of undergraduates to major in the new bachelor of medical sciences
degree in the College of Medicine. Currently, Bikkani is leaning
toward becoming a pediatrician, but he’s a freshman who has
been admitted to UC’s Connections Dual Admissions Program and
has lots of time to come to a decision.
He’s been admitted as an undergraduate and also as a
medical student at the College of Medicine. Bikkani has a full
scholarship to the university and also recently received a 2015
Tylenol Future Care Scholarship for $10,000. He will be one of five
students nationally to attend the Nobel Prize Award ceremonies in
Stockholm, Sweden, Dec. 5-11, 2015.
"I had a nice spectrum of shadowing experiences,” says
Bikkani. "I had a family friend who was a
Born premature, Bikkani says the experience resonated because
he often thought of his conversations with his mom about his own
premature birth when witnessing the experiences of new mothers at
Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.
"Whenever I asked my mom about my birth and some of the health
issues that I had she would always tear up,” he says. "I
realized that dealing with newborns and their families is
incredibly emotionally charged. I knew it could be really rewarding
or really heartbreaking.”
"I went to Rainbow Babies and got to see a lot of really
interesting cases, babies that were brain dead virtually on
arrival. The parents had already come to terms with the fact that
their baby wasn’t going to make it. She was only on a
ventilator because they wanted to know what had gone so
wrong,” says Bikkani.
Physicians ran a battery of tests to identify the issue. In
this case they hit a brick wall and there was no answer, says
Bikkani, who shadowed physicians on weekends and during the summer
of his junior and senior years of high school.
Bikkani was amazed at the impact that doctors, with their
knowledge, words and demeanor, could have on patients.
"I remember shadowing and I walked in and it was a new mother
and her husband and the neonatologist I was with and we were just
having a regular conversation. The moment they start talking about
the baby, the mother involuntarily starts sobbing. I am not sure if
I want to go into neonatology, but I know it is one area where you
can have a really direct impact on lives. It’s transformative
and it sticks in your mind,” says Bikkani.
Another shadowing experience took Bikkani from meeting
newborns to interacting with heroin addicts. He shadowed at a
medical clinic in Garfield Heights and observed a husband and wife
pair of physicians work with residents battling drug
"They were part of a pilot program for heroin addicts,”
says Bikkani. "They were running a tiny little clinic, a few exam
rooms, one room filled with supplies and in another area a little
waiting room. It was nothing like any hospital I had ever been in.
If they felt patients were falling off the wagon, they would try to
get them back on. That was totally a different side of medicine
because at Rainbow Babies the patients are little babies and their
problems are purely medical. They really have just begun life and
they don’t have social or psychological issues.”
Addicts spoke frankly about their addiction, where they got
their drugs and physicians tried to get addicts to consider what
else could they being doing rather than consuming heroin. What
impact did these drugs have on their families?
"It was social medicine. The physician was talking to them
about these issues while working on a skin graft for a patient
injured as a result of their addiction,” says Bikkani. "There
is a huge amount of diversity in medicine. If my inclinations
change, I believe I can always find something—well, hopefully
before it is too late.”
Another area of interest would be geriatrics and Aswin says
that is primarily because of his admiration for noted surgeon Atul
Gawande, MD, who authored the book "Being Mortal.” Gawande
discussed how medicine can not only improve and prolong life
tremendously, but also can inadvertently cause suffering at the end
Medicine has made many advances and raised expectations among
many Americans who simply expect to live longer with intervention.
Gawande, during a speech at Stanford University, argued that living
longer doesn’t necessarily mean that quality of life will be
better and that physicians need better communication with patients
and families facing end-of-life decisions. Asking patients about
their values and priorities for the time they have left may be a
smarter approach, according to Gawande.
"Modern medicine can intervene by fixing your broken leg,
easing your pain and giving you a heart transplant, but can it do
so forever without starting to hurt people? If it can’t, how
do we have that conversation?” asks Bikkani.
As a high school student, Bikkani took Advanced Placement
classes at Westlake High School and advocated for end-of-life care
awareness through the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at Cuyahoga
Community College. He plans to volunteer in the coming months at
the Hospice of Cincinnati.
During the summer of his junior year, Bikkani worked in a
biochemistry and cell biology laboratory at Stony Brook University
through the Simons Summer Research Program. Currently, he works in
the lab of Raphael Kopan, PhD, director of the Division of
Developmental Biology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
"The charm of biomedical research is one has no idea
what is going to happen,” says Bikkani. "You can draw
conclusions from experiments and you can decide what to do next,
but you can’t try everything so you have to make some
educated guess – and that could have a huge
Bikkani and his cohort of 40 medical sciences undergraduates
are scheduled to graduate in 2019 – the year UC celebrates
its bicentennial. The university’s roots lie within the
history of the College of Medicine established in 1819 as the
Medical College of Ohio by pioneering physician Daniel Drake.
"We are delighted to have a student like Aswin in the
Connections Dual Admissions and medical sciences undergraduate
program at the College of Medicine,” says Anil Menon, PhD,
director of the undergraduate program in biomedical sciences and
medicine and professor of molecular genetics. "They represent some
of the best and brightest budding physicians and scientists and we
think they will be future leaders in patient care and medical
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