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Making Mentorship A Living Reality

Biology PhD candidate Justina (Tina) Tavana was recently named a Human Genetics Scholar by the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG). The ASHG is comprised of 8,000 members with an interest in human genetics. Tavana was inducted as a member due to her contributions to health research in understudied populations.

Currently, Tavana’s research focuses on characterizing the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations, two groups that are rarely tested. Tavana strives to enhance our understanding of prevention, detection, and treatment strategies for Alzheimer’s across all communities. She’s motivated by the effect dementia can have on families.

A Polynesian woman wearing a pink blouse under a white lab coat looks down at a row of vials filled with different colored liquids.
Tina Tavana has worked hard identifying Alzheimer's risk genes in Polynesian populations, finding that they are four times more susceptible to the genes than most.

At BYU, Tavana has participated in a number of projects that reflect her commitment to the study of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations. She was the associate director for the Rheumatic Relief program under Dr. John Kauwe, professor of biology and current president of BYU Hawaii, where they studied the genetics of rheumatic heart disease in Samoan children. Tavana also worked with Dr. Kauwe and Dr. Perry Ridge, associate professor of biology, in collecting and analyzing the DNA of Pacific islanders, finding the rate of the Alzheimer’s risk gene is four times higher in that population. Through all of her projects, Tavana enjoys mentoring undergraduate students. “[I do it in] an effort to inspire and nurture the next generation of scientists,” she says.

For Tavana, the title of Human Genetics Scholar means being a member of a community of researchers dedicated to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in the field. The Society provides forums for researchers and those interested in human genetics to present their findings, advocate for research support, educate the public about all aspects of human genetics, and support social and scientific policies. They also place a lot of weight on diversity, pushing for the inclusion of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups within the human genetics research workforce.

As a member of the society, Tavana has the opportunity to connect with mentors and researchers who share a deep interest in her professional journey. “It signifies a world where mentorship isn’t just a concept but a reality, where esteemed experts generously contribute their wisdom, teaching, and guidance to shape my path and ready me for success,” Tavana says. She is excited and is eagerly anticipating the growth and learning that lies ahead.