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 Children’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. He’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 government’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.
Bramble’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 work—and travel—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.
“My 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. “Prior 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.”
He’ll be able to continue that research with his Fulbright plans, which he calls “very synergistic with my current work at Children’s National Medical Center.”
“In addition to researching Konzo, we also have used smartphone-based applications to successfully diagnose Down Syndrome in the DRC—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 “rather randomly” during his time as a Fogarty Global Health Fellow, which brought him to the Congo for the 2017-2018 academic year.
“I 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, he’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 he’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.
“I 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 highlight—particularly with Biology professor Joseph Matanoski, whom Bramble credits with fostering his interest in travel.
“The 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.