Like most soon-to-be college graduates, the world outside of Chaminade was a bit intimidating for Chloe Talana.
The aspiring doctor knew she wanted to gain more research experience through a post-baccalaureate program, but they can be hard to come by.
She tried several times, unsuccessfully, to find the right research position and was beginning to feel uneasy. “You put so much into those applications,” says Talana. “And then if you end up not getting in…to me that’s just not cool.”
Just as she was starting to come up with a backup plan, she got an email from the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
Led by Dr. Tony Fauci, NIAID has been thrust into the limelight lately as they diligently work to address the spread of COVID-19. Talana’s heart lies in finding a cure to another global pandemic, though—HIV. And it was the HIV vaccine lab that reached out.
“I was just so happy because at least someone noticed me,” beams Talana. “They noticed that I might be of help and that, to me, is just so rewarding.”
One of Talana’s first research opportunities was through a summer program at Johns Hopkins University, where she studied blood samples from HIV infected individuals to document how their immune cells function.
After her project, she was one of eight students selected out of a group of 103 to be named best poster presentation at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. She also received the President Sue Wesselkamper Prize for being an outstanding student at Na Liko Na’auao, Chaminade’s annual undergraduate research conference.
“HIV is my favorite virus to study because it’s just so clever in tricking the body so it can use the important components it needs to stay alive,” says Talana. “HIV is just so fascinating to me.”
There’s currently no cure or vaccine for HIV. But the lab at NIAID is studying ways to stimulate a body’s natural ability to produce antibodies to combat HIV, known as broadly neutralizing antibodies. Given the rate at which HIV replicates and mutates, this type of vaccine is widely considered to have the most potential.
When the email came that Chloe had been offered the position at NIAID, her initial excitement was immediately followed by fear.
“At first, I actually didn’t want to accept it because my inner saboteur was telling me I wouldn’t be good enough,” confesses Talana. “But with the help of the Chaminade faculty, I was able to clear my mind. They kept reminding me that the reason I had been accepted was because I could do this.”
For the Farrington High School graduate, this will be her first time living off-island for more than two-months—though she knew an eventual move to the mainland was inevitable with her career goals.
Talana has her eyes set on dual M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. Her time at Johns Hopkins opened her eyes to the powerful work that can be done when research and medicine go hand-in-hand. She got to shadow the principal investigator of her lab, and saw how he would bring blood samples from his patients straight back into the lab.
“I found it so amazing and eye-opening. I want to do that—I don’t want to just be able to care for my patients and treat their symptoms, I want to help them alleviate their pain and suffering by actually finding a cure.”
In between preparing for her move and researching her new home in Bethesda, Maryland, Chloe reminisces about her time at Chaminade.
With COVID-19, her time on campus came to an abrupt halt and her graduation ceremony was postponed to December. Now, she’s not sure when she’ll be able to see her professors again—who to her are more like mentors and friends—and she won’t be able to say goodbye in person. “I’m grateful for everyone at Chaminade and for Chaminade itself,” shares Talana. “I’ve said this many times before, but without them, I would not have been able to get to where I am today and I’m very grateful for that.”