NAVS Alumni Spotlight: ISEF Humane Science Award Recipient Kashish Kumar


This week’s Science First “NAVS Alumni Spotlight” catches up with Kashish Kumar, recipient of the NAVS Humane Science Award at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) this year.

ISEF is the world’s largest pre-college science competition, and NAVS has been presenting our Humane Science Award there since 2002 to encourage young students who are conducting scientific research to integrate innovation and discovery with ethics and respect for animals. 

We recently had the opportunity to touch base with Kashish and asked her to reflect upon the research she presented at ISEF this year.

“The pandemic has shaped all our lives over the past year, and I’ve seen its damaging effects firsthand,” Kashish noted. “And given the significant health problems imposed by COVID-19, it’s essential that we identify diagnostic and therapeutic targets for COVID-19-associated injuries, including multiorgan short- and long-term complications.”

Kashish’s project set out to understand the impact of a COVID-19 infection on human heart cells. In her project, she examined gene expression of human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that were differentiated into heart cells upon SARS-CoV-2 infection. She then compared those cells to control cells. In doing so, she discovered changes in many categories of genes that may serve as druggable targets for COVID-19-associated cardiac injury.

While many animal models exist to study the impacts of COVID-19 infection, we were pleased to see Kashish carrying out her work using a human-relevant approach.

“Specifically for COVID-19 research,” Kashish told us, “mouse, ferret, hamster and nonhuman primate models have all been employed despite their overall inability to wholly reflect comorbidity conditions and transmission as seen in humans.”

She continued, explaining that the use of “iPSC models that recapitulate human bodily phenotypes in in vitro cultures is a novel technique and overcomes many of the animal model limitations, so it was more appropriate for my work.”  She noted that her experience shadowing in a stem cell laboratory was what encouraged her to try using that research methodology instead of animal models.

Kashish also shared words of advice for students looking to integrate humane methods into their scientific efforts.

“Though it might seem more straightforward at times to pursue methods more readily available to you, regardless of humane considerations, it’s essential that you take steps to implement alternate experimentation methods that are more humane and will likely serve the purpose of your research more than an animal model.”

NAVS wishes Kashish success with the next phase of her educational journey—attending college and focusing on biomedical engineering and/or cellular and molecular biology. We are thankful for her efforts to advance science without harming animals and are honored to count her among the growing number of ISEF Humane Science Award recipients.

Learn more about Kashish’s project—and hear from all of this year’s ISEF Humane Science Award recipients—at