P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Freja Ekman, 2023

PhD/MD, Stanford University

Freja Ekman is an immigrant from Sweden/Norway

Fellowship awarded to support work towards a PhD/MD in Genetics at Stanford University

Freja Ekman was born in Erlangen, Germany, to parents from Sweden and Norway. As she was turning five, her family immigrated to San Diego, California. Freja and her two brothers faced many linguistic and cultural barriers when arriving in the United States and relied on each other for support. They spent much of their time together playing Yahtzee and other board games—a favorite activity of her brother who has an intellectual and developmental disability. Growing up in a tightknit and inclusive family, she was surprised to discover the discrimination that her brother faced at school and in the broader community, which sparked her interest in disability advocacy and medicine.

As a college student at the University of California, Berkeley, Freja studied chemical biology, with the hopes of understanding how to harness basic chemical principles to better characterize the behavior of genetic mutations and engineer new genome editing strategies to target them. She worked in the laboratory of David V. Schaffer to develop new CRISPR-Cas9-based gene therapies to treat neurodegenerative disorders. She also pursued her interest in reducing social barriers for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities by organizing fun social events for people with and without disabilities to help foster friendships. After graduating as the university medalist from UC Berkeley, Freja began her studies in translational biomedical research as a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge to better understand how she could translate gene therapies developed in academic labs into clinical treatments.

After her graduate studies, Freja began working for a non-profit organization named Creative Support Alternatives, where she helped support individuals with disabilities pursue their dreams of independent living. She concurrently worked as a computational chemist for D.E. Shaw Research. Freja then began training to become a physician at Stanford University School of Medicine as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar and is now pursuing her PhD in genetics. Under the mentorship of Matthew Porteus, Freja is working on developing new genome editing tools for the treatment of hematological diseases. She hopes to work as a pediatric hematology/oncologist and lead her own lab focused on better understanding rare genetic diseases and gene therapy strategies to treat them. 

Education
  • MPhil Translational Biomedical Research | University of Cambridge
  • BS Chemical Biology | University of California, Berkeley
  • PhD Genetics | Stanford University
  • MD | Stanford University
Awards
  • Knight-Hennessy Scholar
  • Gates Cambridge Scholar
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