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Bioengineering Postdoctoral Fellow receives distinguished awards 

By Natalie Kersten 

Vira Kravets, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Dr. Richard Benninger’s lab at the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes was recently awarded the Career Award at the Scientific Interface from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF): an American non-profit medical research organization that provides funding for biomedical research, STEM education, and areas of career development for scientists. BWF’s Career Awards at the Scientific Interface (CASI) provide $500,000 over five years to bridge advanced postdoctoral training. In this year’s competition, more than 250 preproposals were submitted. From this group 91 were invited to submit full proposals, and from that group, 21 applicants were invited to interview virtually.  

Vira also received the Human Islet Research Network (HIRN) “Emerging leaders in T1 Diabetes” Funding award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIH-NIDDK conducts and supports research on many of the most common, costly, and chronic conditions to improve health. This funding opportunity was designed to provide support and protected time for senior postdocs seeking to pursue studies that will enhance their transition toward independent research careers. Vira’s research focuses on diabetes onset, specifically how to develop a therapy for diabetes prevention for cell subpopulations. 

Vira was born in Chernihiv, Ukraine. She spent her childhood there before moving to Kyiv to attend the National University of Kyiv where she obtained a Master of Science in experimental physics.  

Vira was always fascinated by biology and wanted to become a physician. Given the competitive nature of medical school, Vira ended up taking a different route and obtained her PhD in Physics from University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. It was here she learned the quantitative skills that gave her a fresh new perspective, allowing her to stand apart in her research in islet physiology.  

In 2016, Vira spent the summer as a research assistant in the Lab of Dr. Benninger and loved applying novel microscopy approaches to understand biological mechanism.  After completing her PhD she joined Dr Benninger’s lab. Fast forward to this day, Vira is a Postdoctoral Fellow on her way to becoming an independent PI and starting her own lab. Her detour of going to medical school led her on the path to studying diabetes, and she couldn’t be happier. 

Vira aims to lead a multidisciplinary lab which will focus on the healthy function of the pancreas, and on pathophysiology of diabetes. She uses confocal microscopy, targeted single cell laser ablation, optogenetics, and computational modelling to study live human tissue, and zebrafish models to understand why some insulin-producing cells disproportionately control other cell. This will be applied in tissue engineering for pancreatic islet transplantation for diabetic patients. 

When not in the lab, Vira enjoys teaching yoga, rock climbing, hiking with her husband and friends, and playing with her son (her most favorite thing of all)! 

Congratulations, Vira! 

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