Since entering the National Institutes of Health (NIH) post-baccalaureate program in 2020, Chloe Talana has confirmed her passion for biomedical research. The Chaminade alumna has always been ambitious and determined, aspiring to earn medical and doctoral degrees, concurrently. A scientist at heart ever since she attended Farrington High School’s Health Academy, Talana’s interest in science and therapeutics stem from her passion for medicine.
But her career aspirations have changed. Now she’s committed to solely pursuing her doctoral degree.
“When I started my undergraduate at Chaminade, I wanted to be a physician,” Talana admits. “But my experience at NIH has confirmed that I firmly want to be a biomedical researcher.”
During her undergraduate studies at Chaminade, Talana gained the full confidence of faculty members, especially Dr. Michael Weichhaus, who strongly encouraged her to seek research opportunities beyond his lab. Talana’s first research opportunity involved 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 only one of eight students selected out of a cohort 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.
“Professor Weichhaus helped me navigate the entire process and prepared me for what to expect,” Talana says. “In fact, the entire Chaminade community has significantly supported me in many ways, and provided me with amazing resources, without which I would never have been able to experience some of the incredible things that I was able to do.”
In the summer of 2019, Talana returned to the mainland. This time, she secured a spot with a research team studying Hepatitis C in a lab at New York University’s School of Medicine. She was fortunate enough to present her findings during a national conference alongside other undergraduates selected for the prestigious Leadership Alliance program. The Leadership Alliance comprises 35 institutions, including such universities as Chaminade, Harvard, Yale and Stanford. The Alliance allows students to gain access to valuable research, mentoring and career development opportunities.
“It was both an honor and an invaluable experience to share my data with peers,” Talana says. “The occasion affirmed that I was on the right path and helped boost my confidence.”
Talana has come a long way.
A 2021 NIH Director’s Award winner, she was recognized for her outstanding efforts in the pursuit of efficacious vaccines to prevent COVID-19. And while the rest of the globe took a pause during the pandemic, Talana and her fellow researchers never stopped, knowing the severity of COVID and its lethal spread around the world.
“It’s important that ongoing data is produced,” Talana asserts. “We know that viruses evolve and COVID is no different.”
In a virtual NIH Directors Award Ceremony, then-director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., addressed the 3,263 awardees, congratulating them for their achievements and their outstanding commitment to excellence, public health and the NIH mission.
“Moving forward, amazing progress has been made in vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics,” said Collins in his video message. “The public health emergency we face today has brought unprecedented challenges. Still, we know that our staff is the best equipped in the world to find innovative solutions to save countless lives.”
Talana takes pride in knowing that the cutting-edge biomedical research performed at the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) serves the American people, as well as communities and individuals around the globe. Her endeavors—then and today—have reinforced the idea that the role of a biomedical researcher is just as vital as that of a physician.
“Physicians prescribe medicine,” Talana says. “But biomedical researchers have front-row seats to diseases. So the research we do and the data we collect also saves lives.”
The NIH post-baccalaureate program has exposed Talana to a rich biomedical research experience. It has also left her with a deep understanding of how scientific investigation works and what it entails.
“The NIH has definitely helped a lot in my decision process,” says the ambitious 25-year-old researcher. “I now know that I want to pursue my Ph.D. in biomedical research.”
Talana is currently applying to some of the nation’s most competitive biomedical research programs, hoping to land a spot that will further allow her to continue her research interests.
“My parents instilled in me an unwavering curiosity,” Talana asserts. “They’ve been encouraging and supportive of all my decisions. And they’ve always told me to do what makes me happy.”
It’s the pursuit of a Ph.D. that makes Talana the happiest.