By Claire Hoffman for Ventures, Winter 2020-2021
When he graduated Stevenson in 2010 with a B.S. in Biology, Matthew S. Bramble, Ph.D., immediately dove head-first into a life of travel and service. He spent two years at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, studying host-viral protein interactions, before earning his Ph.D. in Human Genetics from UCLA in 2017.
Now, he works at the Childrenâ€™s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., as a staff scientist in the Department of Genetic Medicine research.
But now, Bramble is set to embark on his biggest adventure yet: Last spring, he was awarded the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award to South Africa and the Philippines. Heâ€™s one of nearly 800 citizens who will teach, conduct research, and provide expertise abroad for the 2021-2022 academic year through the Fulbright program, the governmentâ€™s flagship international education exchange program established in 1946. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievements, as well as a record of service and leadership in their fields.
Brambleâ€™s research will center around expanding access to low-cost and user-friendly diagnostic solutions for inborn conditions. It all ties in nicely with the workâ€”and travelâ€”he has long been passionate about; in fact, he currently travels extensively to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as well as South Africa and the Philippines, for research projects and teaching efforts.
â€œMy current work focuses heavily on a disease known as Konzo, which is a debilitating condition caused by the improper consumption of cassava,” he explains. Currently, Bramble is investigating how the gut-microbiome may be involved in modulating the disease, and how genetic differences between populations can explain the susceptibility to the condition. â€œPrior to that, I spent time in the DRC working on projects involving Ebola, with a focus on the immune system of those individuals that have survived previous outbreaks of that virus.”
Heâ€™ll be able to continue that research with his Fulbright plans, which he calls â€œvery synergistic with my current work at Childrenâ€™s National Medical Center.”
â€œIn addition to researching Konzo, we also have used smartphone-based applications to successfully diagnose Down Syndrome in the DRCâ€”so this award aims to expand such technology and others in the Philippines as well as South Africa,” he explains.
Bramble says he became passionate about using AI-based tools and technology to help diagnose genetic conditions â€œrather randomly” during his time as a Fogarty Global Health Fellow, which brought him to the Congo for the 2017-2018 academic year.
â€œI knew there was very little genetic expertise in the DRC, making it all the more valuable. It seemed like a good idea and a challenge, so I decided to take it on in addition to my Ebola studies,” he says. Since his research has proved successful so far, heâ€™s excited to expand it to other countries that lack genetic services and well-trained genetic specialists.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bramble says his Fulbright will likely start in January 2021, when heâ€™ll be physically placed in each country for about three months. He credits his time at Stevenson for providing him the educational and personal resources needed to succeed in his career.
â€œI think my Stevenson education was above and beyond,” adding that the mentoring he received and personal relationships he was able to forge with dedicated faculty were the highlightâ€”particularly with Biology professor Joseph Matanoski, whom Bramble credits with fostering his interest in travel.
â€œThe collective notion of the entire SU faculty that I pursue a Ph.D. turned out to be the best career and academic advice that I was ever offered,” he says.
This profile originally appeared in the Winter 2020-2021 issue of Ventures.