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Hemlata Mistry Named Widener University’s First Sarnoski Fellow

Could common fruit flies hold the key to healing spinal cord injuries in humans? Dr. Hemlata Mistry, assistant professor of biology at Widener University, is conducting research with undergraduate students to find out.
Mistry Sarnoski
For her research, Mistry has been named the first Cynthia H. Sarnoski Science Faculty Fellow at Widener. The two-year fellowship is presented to a faculty member whose teaching is focused on any of the science programs offered at the university.

"I'm very pleased and excited to have been awarded the Sarnoski Fellowship and I'm particularly honored to be the first fellow in the history of this award," Mistry said.

Mistry's research involves wounding the nervous system of fruit fly embryos to determine the effects on the nervous system and monitoring the insects' response to the trauma.

"All organisms have the capacity to repair tissue to varying extents after injury, but few animals have true regeneration potential," Mistry said. "In vertebrates, the inflammation response following severe trauma to the spinal cord is a major barrier to wound healing."

She said that fruit flies are ideal for studying questions relevant to human health because of the availability of powerful genetic tools, a sequenced genome and a comprehensive understanding of their developmental processes.

She said her short-term goal is to engage undergraduate student researchers at Widener in either upper-level laboratory activities or through independent study. She has already conducted research with several undergraduate students who have presented their work nationally, including Joseph Chiaro '10 and Megan Donegan '12, currently research assistants at the University of Pennsylvania, who helped her set up the fruit fly experiments in the proposal for the fellowship.

"My longer-term goals are to contribute to the greater body of knowledge in nerve injury and regeneration through peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations with undergraduate co-authors," Mistry said.

Sarnoski, for whom the fellowship is named, graduated from Widener in 1974 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry. She is a retired senior vice president for Global Compliance and Quality Systems for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and a member of the Widener Board of Trustees.

"Dr. Mistry's research, and the extent to which she includes Widener undergraduate students, are great examples of the type of research and scholarship I hoped to reward through the fellowship," Sarnoski said. "I am excited to see how her work progresses."

Mistry, who has taught at Widener since 2008, received a doctorate in genetics from the University of Cambridge and a bachelor's in molecular biology from the University of Glasgow.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate's, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. The university's campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve some 6,500 students. Visit the university website,




Photo Caption:  Dr. Hemlata Mistry (left) is awarded the fellowship by Widener Trustees Dr. Cynthia Sarnoski.