Science and service to humanity

January 29, 2016

Holly CorbittShe came to Oregon with dreams of being a professional snowboarder or a pediatrician. But along the way, Holly Corbitt discovered a passion for bioscience that has taken her life in a different direction.

From her very first chemistry class at Mount Hood Community College (MHCC), Corbitt knew her life would never be the same. "I fell in love with cell pathways and working with science on a molecular level," she said.

At MHCC, she distinguished herself in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Cohen – the only community college student to conduct independent research at the time – and eventually transferred to the honors biology program at Portland State University. 

Today the Mississippi native studies in the lab of Cheryl Maslen, Ph. D. '87, professor of medicine. "Grad school is less about finding a research project and more about finding a good mentor," Corbitt said. "I came to OHSU because of faculty such as Dr. Maslen." Corbitt participates with her mentor in the Down Syndrome Heart Project, a multi-institution collaboration that is searching for the underlying etiology that causes heart defects in children born with Down syndrome. The program has the largest cohort of data from Down syndrome patients ever collected and through this shared resource hopes to improve treatment for the nearly 2,000 infants a year born with atrioventricular septal defect, a condition in which there are missing walls between the chambers in the heart. In the Maslen Lab, Corbitt is part of a whole-exome study investigating genetic modifiers that may contribute to this disorder.

In 2014, Corbitt was among the first students in the nation to be awarded a Roche/ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) Foundation Scholar Award. "Anyone who applies to graduate school looks to see if a program has ARCS," she said. "The donors are so supportive and genuinely interested in us. They care about my success as much as my own mother."

After completing her Ph.D. at OHSU, Corbitt hopes to pursue a postdoctoral program in machine learning or computer programming. "I want to be doing the most innovative work that solves today's problems in the field of biology," she said. And whatever surprising direction life may take her after that, she trusts in the science that led her to where she is today.