Young Researcher Achieving Global Recognition as Prominent Cancer Fighter

For a young scientist who just finished her PhD in May 2017, Hasini Jayatilaka has achieved goals that takes many researchers an entire career to acquire. During her research, she discovered the mechanisms that causes cancer cells to break away from tumors and spread to other parts of the body, also known as metastasis. She also created a cocktail of drugs that slows and, in some cases, stops cancer from spreading. These discoveries have received international recognition and attracted the attention of many media outlets, organizations, professionals, and audiences.

Jayatilaka will be recognized and speaking at  TEDxMidAtlantic’s “SuperPowers” themed event.

Jayatilaka was born in Australia, and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her lawyer mother and engineer father emphasized the importance of education and a well-balanced life to her and her older brother. She came to the United States in 2009 to pursue a bachelor’s degree and eventually a PhD at Johns Hopkins University in chemical and biomolecular engineering. During her sophomore year of college, she found herself performing the early stages of her famed work at the Institute for NanoBioTechnology under the mentorship of Denis Wirtz, co-founder and core faculty member of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, Johns Hopkins University Vice Provost for Research, and Theophilus Halley Smoot professor of Engineering Science at Johns Hopkins University.

“From the beginning, Dr. Wirtz encouraged me to think beyond what I was looking at, and that really inspired me to take a risk with my research. I was able to get over any fears I had and move forward confidently with my ideas,” said Jayatilaka.

The paper, published in Nature Communications in May 2017, is one of the top-read articles in the journal’s history. It has prompted widespread interest, and since its release Jayatilaka has been interviewed by multiple news sources around the globe, has become a nominee for Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, and will be a speaker for TEDxMidAtlantic in Washington, DC. She also has also her own hashtag, #hasinieffect, which has become a symbol of her research.

The hashtag, #hasinieffect, has become a symbol of Jayatilaka’s research.

Her current focus includes refining the research she started by developing better combination therapies that effectively target tumor growth and metastasis, developing new anti-cancer therapeutics that reduce toxicity and drug resistance, and testing these therapeutics in new systems that better mimic the human body. She is also developing human clinical trials on highly metastatic cancers based on her research, and has become more involved in advocating for immigrants in science and for federal research funding.

The months since the release of Jayatilaka’s paper have been a whirlwind, but she emphasizes that despite the attention, her focus remains on the research and on improving patient outcomes. “I love my work on developing new methods to target this terrible disease, and while the attention has been great, my interests and goals haven’t changed,” she says.

Read the full Nature Communications journal publication.

Jayatilaka’s research can also be seen in other media outlets such as the The Academic MinuteBaltimore Sun, the Hub, Eurekalert, and The Times of India.

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Story by: INBT