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Graduate student, who researches cancer biology, competes on ‘Jeopardy!’

DqIpomNWoAEz_bF The episode will air at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 25 on WRIC-TV Richmond

While watching “Jeopardy!” in December 2016, Virginia Commonwealth University medical student Dhruv Srinivasachar was inspired by a contestant named Cindy Stowell, who was battling stage 4 colon cancer when she completed a six-game winning streak. Stowell never got to see the episodes, which were taped in August and September. She died just a week before they aired.

“My research is in cancer biology  specifically focused on finding new drugs for cancer,” Srinivasachar said. “I would like to make strides in developing more effective treatments, and possibly even cures, for cancers that we have not had much success in treating.”

A few months before he saw Stowell’s episode, Srinivasachar watched his VCU medical school classmate Siddharth Hariharan compete in three “Jeopardy!” episodes in September 2016. Hariharan, who was in his first year of medical school at the time, hosted watch parties for his classmates at the McGlothlin Medical Education Center on the MCV Campus. “While I was watching, I thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute, I think I would have been able to get all of those questions right,’” Srinivasachar said. “Apparently, I was a bit more outspoken than I had thought, because Siddharth came up to me after and was like, ‘Dude, you should take the online test.’”

Srinivasachar took the test at the end of his second year of medical school. He was invited to New York for an audition in June. On the day he was scheduled to depart, he was in the operating room observing a daylong surgery. “We were extracting a tumor from a patient’s neck,” Srinivasachar said. “As soon as the tumor was cut from the patient, I rushed out of the operating room, scrubbed out, picked up my bags and flew to New York.” 

The 25-year-old is pursuing a medical degree at VCU School of Medicine and a doctoral degree in clinical and translational sciences with a concentration in cancer and molecular medicine through the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research. He works in the laboratory of Anthony Faber, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research in the School of DentistryFaber is also a researcher at VCU Massey Cancer Center and co-leader of the Center's Developmental Therapeutics research program.

“I was walking back to the lab from lunch when I got the call inviting me to be on the show,” Srinivasachar said. “I was shocked. As soon as I hung up, I told my friends in the lab I was going to be out for a few days because I had to tape ‘Jeopardy!’”

Srinivasachar attributes most of his trivia knowledge to his love of reading and his inherent interest in subjects ranging from history and politics to classic literature. His first love, though, is science. “As a young kid, I read voraciously,” Srinivasachar said, adding that his earliest memories are of his parents both scientists — giving him children’s books about molecular biology to read when he was 3 years old. “I got interested in biomedical research at a very young age, and it led me to the idea that biomedical research should be connected to clinical practice.”

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering, he decided to attend VCU because the university offered a clinical and translational research-dedicated graduate program. “In bioengineering, there is an immense focus in translating research into practical applications,” Srinivasachar said. “As a physician scientist, I want to apply my basic research background in a way that allows for translation into biomedical innovations and, eventually, into clinical practice.”

Being on ‘Jeopardy!’ is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

If he wins tonight, Srinivasachar plans to save the money to pay for a tour of Asia after defending his dissertation in 2022. He studied Mandarin throughout high school and college and visited China in 2009, but the trip coincided with the swine flu outbreak. Instead of exploring China, Srinivasachar was quarantined for nine days. “I want to go back and try to make up for lost time,” he said.

The experience of competing on “Jeopardy!” is something Srinivasachar will never forget and he said he is grateful for the opportunity to represent VCU on a national stage. “Being on ‘Jeopardy!’ is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream,” he said. “I’m sure at some point, the memory will become an important facet of my history.”