Surgery resident awarded prestigious T32 federal research grant

Award allows Nataliya Bahatyrevich, an aspiring cardiothoracic surgeon, to spend a year in a laboratory and pursue a Master of Science in biomedical engineering


A cardiothoracic surgery resident who aspires to improve the technology behind vascular grafts and stents, as well as cell-based therapies for heart failure, has been awarded a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship.

Nataliya Bahatyrevich received a federal government NIH/NHLBI-T32 award, also known as T32, which provides funding to incorporate a year of research into her residency training.

The award is for trainees nationwide who seek to perform basic and translational research that could potentially highly benefit human health.

Portrait of Nataliya Bahatyrevich, a cardiothoracic surgery resident who has been awarded a T32 federal research grant
Nataliya Bahatyrevich will use her T32 research grant to spend a year in a research laboratory and pursue a Master of Science in biomedical engineering

Bahatyrevich will also use her research year to pursue a Master of Science in biomedical engineering at UC Davis.

“This is very exciting for me because I’ve always been interested in research, so this award gives me an opportunity to fulfill my goals during residency,” Bahatyrevich said.

One of her current research projects in Aijun Wang’s laboratory includes finding a way to successfully repair damaged inner lining of any blood vessel or promote inner lining of synthetic stents to look like healthy native blood vessels.

If there’s a breakthrough, she said, “it would significantly impact patients who have heart disease, end stage kidney disease, and peripheral vascular disease because a lot of patients have limited surgical or medical therapy options.”

She’s also collaborating with Diana Farmer, an expert in surgical bioengineering, to apply stem cell technology to heart failure patients.

T32 training grants are competitive, yet the UC Davis School of Medicine and UC Davis have been awarded several in recent years.

Most recently, a partnership between the departments of orthopaedic surgery and biomedical engineering received a T32 to fund four predoctoral students to study musculoskeletal health. In addition, a T32 also is benefitting the department of pharmacology graduate training program. 

Bahatyrevich is in a distinctive position.

 She is one out of six integrated cardiothoracic surgery residents at the UC Davis School of Medicine. This means her six-year clinical pathway to become a cardiothoracic surgeon includes significant training in both general thoracic and cardiac surgery – as opposed to the traditional track of learning cardiothoracic surgery only after five-years of general surgery residency training. 

She is also the only trainee in the program to spend two years conducting research, thanks to the T32 funding, which will make her training an eight-year experience.  

“She just has a drive to pursue her passions,” said Gary Wayne Raff, professor of clinical surgery and director of the cardiothoracic residency program. “She is extremely driven.”

Raff isn’t surprised that Bahatyrevich was awarded a T32 – the first for the integrated residency program. “She is really just hitting home runs,” he said. He predicts Bahatyrevich will make “significant contributions” to the field of cardiothoracic surgery.

Aspiring to be a physician from an early age

Bahatyrevich was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she admired her hard-working mother who worked two jobs to support the family. Her father would spend hours in the garage in his free time, building and creating things from computers to carpentry.

Bahatyrevich always knew from a young age she wanted to study biology and become a doctor, which was her answer on the first day of kindergarten when her teacher asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Family portrait of Nataliya Bahatyrevich standing with her husband while holding their toddler in between them
Cardiothoracic surgery resident Nataliya Bahatyrevich is the mother of an active toddler and enjoys playing violin and piano, writing children’s books and solving puzzles

In ninth grade, an opportunity arose for Bahatyrevich to immigrate to the United States. Even though her English was limited, she moved to San Francisco with her mother and then to Long Island, New York, where she graduated as a valedictorian from Earl L Vandermeulen High School. She was accepted into Harvard College and attained a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology. She then attended Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and became its first medical student to match into an integrated cardiothoracic surgery program.

Bahatyrevich chose to apply to UC Davis because of its integrated cardiothoracic residency program – one of only three in California and 23 in the nation at that time.

A mother to an active toddler, Bahatyrevich enjoys playing violin and piano, writing children’s books and solving puzzles. 

Given her zeal for learning, don’t expect Bahatyrevich to stop studying and researching at the end of her residency. She hopes to apply for a fellowship to learn more about heart failure and transplant surgery.

“My aspiration is really to merge my clinical practice with research,” she said, “and that’s why an opportunity such as the T32 is very unique and exciting to me.”