Meet Priya Ghanta ’24: Biology Researcher and Future Physician

Posted by Pine Crest School on March 28, 2024 at 4:09 PM

Pine Crest Upper School student Priya Ghanta ’24 has devoted the last four years to scientific research and music.


A singer with the chorus and a violinist with the orchestra, it is difficult to comprehend how Priya has found the time to complete her many accomplishments!

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As her eighth grade year on the Boca Raton campus was coming to an end, the COVID-19 pandemic began. 


“I have always had an interest in science,” Priya said. “In my family, I have practicing physicians and researchers, so I was exposed to it from an early age. COVID-19 sparked my personal interest in science research because I wanted to know more about the virus. I contacted a professor at the University of Miami (UM) and was able to participate in a virtual introduction to COVID-19 with other high school students. That is where I began learning how to conduct scientific research and give a presentation. It was a cool experience that started my interest in bio-diseases.” 


Moving to her sophomore year, Priya’s interest in learning more about disease and the human immune response continued to grow. She found a professor at Harvard conducting research on HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. She participated in research virtually, working closely with a graduate student. 


“The graduate student really helped me develop my writing in this field and taught me more about conducting scientific research and literature reviews,” said Priya. “She showed me how to synthesize information and interpret jargon. I credit Pine Crest, too, because writing has been emphasized throughout my academic career—how to pull and cite sources and how to determine relevant information.”


As a junior, Priya returned to her mentor at UM who had spoken to her about a project he knew she would want to be involved with. 

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“The opioid immunity study, or OPIS, focuses on the effects of opioids on the immune system,” Priya said. “The lab I have been working in also studies human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), so we also looked at the intersection between people who use opioids and HIV positive individuals.”


Priya has been working as part of the study for two years, even serving as a volunteer in a clinic where researchers and medical professionals help opioid users, some of whom are HIV-positive. “I was able to volunteer at the clinic, and I thought it was so cool to see the work they do,” she said. “The altruistic doctors and medical students inspired me in the way they help patients.”


Patients at the clinic have volunteered to be participants in the OPIS and have allowed Priya to further her research by analyzing a specific part of the data about two superfamilies of molecules. Research that earned her a prestigious award this year. Priya was named a scholar in the Society for Science Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. 


Priya’s research, “Soluble Plasma Proteins of Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) and Immunoglobulin (Ig) Superfamilies Reveal New Insights Into Immune Regulation in People With HIV and Opioid Use Disorder,” was conducted by measuring the amounts of molecules in the blood plasma of each participant in the OPIS. “We were able to determine which disease or disorder affects how much of each molecule is expressed. With that, we can determine how these molecules influence people’s immune responses. Ultimately we are trying to determine the linkage between the immune response someone has and the molecules that are expressed in their blood. This has implications for treatments for many diseases, including cancer. If we know which pathways are active and when we can figure out how to inhibit inflammatory pathways and promote positive immune responses.”


Reflecting on how she has been supported through her independent endeavors, Priya says she has had great teachers. 


“I wanted to find opportunities on my own to conduct science research, and my Pine Crest education has helped me do that. My biology courses in Upper School have broadened my interest even more. I like learning how things work in human biology. Now, I am taking Post-AP Biology: Genetics and Evolution, and there is even more than I could have imagined to learn about life. My Pine Crest education has given me access to all these different areas of biology, and there is so much in front of me that I can learn more about.”

IMG_0018Priya Ghanta ’24 with Lower School Strings Instructor Ms. Martha Schimelpfenig

Additionally, Priya says her Orchestra teachers have taught her to work through challenges with tenacity and grace. “Mr. Khouri hypes me up and has helped with my musicality on the violin. Ms. Martha on the Boca Raton campus challenged me in the best way possible. She was the one who pushed me to always put my best effort forward.” 

This year, Priya earned the Founder's Council Award for Excellence in Instrumental Orchestra by the Founder's Council. The Founder’s Council was established by Pine Crest School founder Dr. Mae McMillan in 1968. The Council’s mission is to support the arts at Pine Crest, which is done through the awards.

The Founder's Council noted that Priya "has played in the pit orchestra, competed at the Florida Orchestra Association Music Performance Assessments, and has served as a mentor to the Panther All Stars [Lower School orchestra students]. Her contributions have been nothing short of extraordinary. One need only listen to her solo performance in "Angels Greet with Anthems Sweet" to understand the depth of her artistry. With each stroke of her bow, she weaves a tapestry of sound that is as beautiful as it is technically flawless."

BEV06862-1Priya performs at the Founder's Council Assembly on March 29, 2024.

Of all her science classes, Priya has enjoyed her classes with Mr. Schwartz the most. “His Post-AP Bio class is the most interesting because we go into depth about evolution with Fossil Fridays. He also wrote the recommendation letter for my Regeneron application.”

IMG_4530Priya Ghanta ’24 with Upper School Science Instructor Mr. Andrew Schwartz

As her senior year winds down, Priya is getting ready to submit a manuscript for publication. As the primary author of the piece, Priya furthers her research into the effects of the TNF and Ig superfamilies of molecules on patients battling opioid use disorder, HIV, and patients with both. 


Priya will be a freshman at Duke University this fall and is looking forward to joining the Duke chorus and symphony orchestra, and, of course, declaring herself a biology major. “I want to be a doctor,” Priya continued. “I want to work in a leading medical center and apply the latest research to patients. Seeing the doctors in the clinic I volunteered with inspired me to continue researching. I want to keep learning—I love learning!”

Topics: Upper School, Student Life, Fine Arts, Academics, Student Leadership, Science, 2024