University of South Florida

USF medical student awarded Howard Hughes Medical Institute Medical Research Fellowship

Anna Cheng is the first student at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine to receive the prestigious fellowship

Tampa, FL (April 28, 2017) – Anna Cheng, a second-year medical student at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, has been selected to join the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) 2017-18 Medical Research Fellows Program.

Cheng is the first University of South Florida medical student to receive the highly competitive fellowship, known as the Med Fellows Program, which allows exceptional medical, veterinary and dentistry students to conduct rigorous, mentored laboratory research at top institutions across the country. She was among 79 students nationwide chosen by HHMI for the 2017-18 program.

USF medical student Anna Cheng

Starting this summer, each fellow will spend a year pursuing basic, translational, or applied biomedical research at one of 32 academic or nonprofit research institutions across the United States. The awardees include medical students from universities such as Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and Yale.

Taking a year out between her second and third year of medical school studies at USF, Cheng will move in June to Boston, where she will work in the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute laboratory of David Pellman, MD, a professor of pediatric oncology at Harvard Medical School.  There, surrounded by other students, postdoctoral fellows and HHMI investigators, she will pursue her studies to uncover the basic chromosomal mechanisms underlying genomic instability that can potentially lead to cancer. In particular, she is interested in the genetic abnormalities involved in a childhood cancer known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Cheng started dabbling in the scientific method as a high school student. Science had always interested her, but when her best friend and her godmother found themselves in a fight against cancer, Cheng decided to narrow her scientific focus.

“My best friend was diagnosed with leukemia and my godmother with ovarian cancer. I wanted to understand why – to figure it out,” she said. “Yes, I was interested in cancer research, but I had personal factors that really drove me.”

During her undergraduate studies at Duke University, Cheng continued to make time for lab research, fitting it in over summers and in between coursework. And though she valued the experiences, the fleeting glimpses of bench time only whet her appetite for more. The Med Fellows Program, she says, provides her the opportunity for more sustained exposure to research. Her goal following graduation from the Morsani College of Medicine is to become a physician-scientist, likely specializing in pediatric hematology-oncology.

“I hope to emerge from this research year as a more adept scientist,” she said. “The program’s experience isn’t really just a year. It’s something that will serve me well for the rest of my career.”

For more information on the HHMI Med Fellows Program, including a list of the 2017-18 awardees, go to

USF Health
USF Health’s mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, the Biomedical Sciences Graduate and Postdoctoral Programs, and the USF Physicians Group. The University of South Florida, established in 1956 and located in Tampa, is a high-impact, global research university dedicated to student success. USF is ranked in the Top 30 nationally for research expenditures among public universities, according to the National Science Foundation. For more information, visit

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays an important role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. HHMI’s headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

Media contact:  
Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications and Marketing
(813) 974-3303 or


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