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Natasha Sheybani

University of Virginia

Science aside, Natasha Sheybani could be a textbook wunderkind. The Stanford postdoc started college at 16 and had earned her Ph.D. by 24. 

Her love of science — and dual interests in biology and math — began at 14, when her parents drove her after school to Virginia Commonwealth University every day to work in two labs, one focused on neuroscience and the other on engineering. 

These days, Sheybani is passionate about using focused ultrasound — a non-invasive way to heat tissue using sound waves — to treat cancer. It’s been used for years as an imaging tool, but emerging research suggests it might also have potential as a therapeutic as well. Sheybani, who earned her PhD at the University of Virginia, developed a method that combines focused ultrasound with chemotherapy for triple-negative breast cancer. That method is now awaiting clearance to be tested in a clinical trial.

“I have kind of grown up with the field,” Sheybani said. “I was among the first to even take on a dissertation with this focus.” 

The field’s nascency — and Sheybani’s singular focus on it — has given her opportunities not often afforded to trainees, from chairing conference sessions to speaking alongside established researchers at invite-only events. “I truly feel that the research I do has the ability to drive the direction of the field,” she said.

“My goal is to create tools for non-invasive risk prediction [for cancer].”

Looking ahead, Sheybani is interested in radiogenomics, a newer-still field studying the intersection of imaging, genomics, and cancer risk. “My goal is to create tools for non-invasive risk prediction [for cancer],” she said.

—  Shraddha Chakradhar