Opportunities for service and research brought her to the Miller School
By Bob Woods
Photography by Kiko Ricote
Akshara Sree Challa
hird-year M.D. student Akshara Sree Challa was sort of a nomad before landing at the Miller School. She was born in India into a multigenerational family of farmers, but her father made a switch to a career in the tech industry.
“We moved a lot when I was younger due to the nature of my father’s employment,” she said, “across Southeast Asia and then to the U.S. in 2005.” After a year in Minnesota, the Challas lived in various places in Southern California until planting roots in the Bay Area. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
Art was a medium through which Akshara was able to connect with her diverse peers during her frequent relocations. “It’s like it almost has this power to transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries,” she said. Utilizing her artistic talents as a form of therapy at a children’s hospital in Oakland, California, was one of her most fulfilling experiences. “It not only helped me develop meaningful relationships but also gave me a chance to serve others,” she said.
Her efforts continued at the Miller School, where she is involved with the Child and Adolescent Motivation and Enrichment Program (CHAMP), which helps facilitate significant mentorships for pediatric patients undergoing dialysis treatment. She is also participating in groundbreaking research on arteriovenous fistula failure.
“I’ve been blessed to find a lab with amazing mentors like Drs. Laisel Martinez and Roberto Vaquez-Padron,” she said. This year, Akshara will be investigating contractile markers mediating smooth muscle cell plasticity, with support from the Hayward Foundation Genomics Research Fellowship. Longer term, she is interested in pursuing a career in vascular surgery.
Akshara’s passion for service was formalized at a young age after a jarring hit-and-run accident. Surviving without serious injuries, she said, “I realized over time that my calling is to make a positive mark on this world, especially in the lives of those who are most in need.”