Tanya Khandheria drives towards potential in biotech

“I’ve always been interested in the medical field. But more recently, I’ve started learning more about [biotechnology]. I just thought it was really cool how many doors it [has] opened and the fact that it hasn’t really been explored much. There’s so much untapped potential there,” senior Tanya Khandheria said. 

Taking on the medical field one biotech data point at a time, Tanya has spent the past few months writing a medical paper focusing on Parkinson’s disease as well as solutions to the disease through biochemistry, a process where genes and other biological areas are chemically altered in order to help or mitigate disease and other genealogical effects. During her research, Tanya found GEn1E Lifesciences, a local company working to advance treatments for rare inflammatory diseases, and began an internship, hoping to turn her passions into real-life experiences.

“I’m already working my dream job domestically, and if I worked with them for four years, the amount of credibility and actual intellectual information I would build in the medical field shows that this [is the] field that I want to go into,” Tanya said. (Photo courtesy of GEn1E Lifesciences)
“I reached out to [GEn1E Lifesciences] and sent them my paper and a cover letter, and they were like, ‘We would love to work with you.’ So, over the summer and into the school year, I started driving down to Mountain View, where their lab and office are, and I started working with them,” Tanya said. 

She describes the work she has been able to do while working with specific proteins like the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and other neurological pathways that biochemistry and biotech work with to create change in genes.  

“[The company] looks into neurological pathways — things like the MAPK pathway. And these are the pathways that certain illnesses use to get into your body. So we look at things like Parkinson’s [disease], which is particularly what I’m working on, but also other [diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and lung cancer. They all use certain pathways, so what we’re looking into is preventing diseases from that sector,” Tanya said. 

 Although working in Silicon Valley has become a major time commitment during an already busy senior year, Tanya stresses the importance of the work that she is doing. 

“I think the important thing is boiling down [what doesn’t] matter and retaining the things that actually have value. Now, I think everything in my life is meaningful in terms of the work I do. I don’t do any busy work; I don’t take classes I don’t love; I don’t hang out with people [that I don’t love]; I don’t do things that I’m not super excited about,” Tanya said.

What I found is that it’s not as difficult when you love what you do and love the people you work with. I honestly feel so lucky to be able to do [biotech work] with this little experience,” Tanya said.
Since Tanya is a minor, there were various hoops she had to jump through to attain such a sought-after position. California is one of the few states with stricter laws on minor labor as well as regulations in the biotech field which protect Tanya, ensuring that she and other minors are not being overworked and under-supported. Legality also establishes that GEn1E Lifesciences is not violating ethics surrounding testing on animals and patients. 

Oliver Lowndes, a senior and friend of Tanya, has watched her not only thrive in school but also throughout her journey in biochemistry. 

“[Tanya’s] work ethic is crazy. She’s always working. Whenever I text her, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ or ‘What are you doing?’ she responds with, ‘I’m working on this project, and we’re getting this figured out.’ She is always getting the job done,” Lowndes said.

Through the help of her friends, parents and counselor, Elijio Arreguin, Tanya was able to construct a schedule to prioritize her work. With Arreguin’s assistance, she was able to waive five of her seven classes and replace them with her internship. Other staff members as well as her parents have recognized the valuable qualities that Tanya exerts as a student and as a young adult, including her father, Ajoy Khandheria. 

“I believe that she is so driven. I’ve seen many things that she has done that show she’s very inquisitive. … Her intellect is off the charts,” Ajoy said. “While she is very driven about [her work], the other thing is that she’s a [social] person. She spends between two to two and a half hours in the gym every day, and she also likes to be with her friends.”

Tanya gears up as she waits for the signal to sprint into a race, one of the many extracurricular activities she takes part in. (Photo courtesy of Tanya Khandheria)

With more time available outside of school due to her small class schedule, Tanya is able to obtain real-life work experience from GEn1E Lifesciences, frequently sitting in on board meetings and data work, while most other people in her field are well out of college.

“I am fighting the battle of, ‘Do I want to work really hard on college apps and try to get into the best possible college, or do I want to just drop the whole college application process and just go to college for two years because I’m already working my dream job domestically?’ I love the people I work with, and I love what I do,” Tanya said. “I honestly feel so lucky to be able to do it with this little experience.”