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Novalia Pishesha

Boston Children's Hospital

When Novalia “Nova” Pishesha was a graduate student, her research helped lay the foundation for a spinout company called Rubius Therapeutics, which is working on engineering red blood cells to build treatments. 

But Pishesha, who grew up in Indonesia, worries that the benefits of cutting-edge treatments like those she has studied won’t be accessible for people around the world.

“A lot of the work I’ve been doing is much more translational, and I think it’s because of my experience growing up.”

“A lot of the work I’ve been doing is much more translational, and I think it’s because of my experience growing up,” she said. “There is an immediate need.”

Now, as a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows with projects at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard’s public health school, and the Broad Institute, Pishesha is striving to come up with treatments for autoimmune disorders with a clear goal in mind: “Cheaper, simpler, but with a similar efficacy or even better efficacy” than cell therapies.

In her research, Pishesha is trying to figure out how to target the overly aggressive immune cells that drive these conditions, without suppressing the immune system’s broader activity that keeps us safe from invaders. Instead of focusing on just one disorder, she’s working on a platform that can be tuned to an array of them, including multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Pishesha came to the United States and started at a community college before transferring to UC Berkeley, and has been in the Boston area since she started graduate school. But there’s one thing missing: there’s no local Indonesian restaurant. Instead, Pishesha has had to learn to recreate her favorite dishes herself at home.

— Andrew Joseph