Labouisse winner to study malaria in Thailand

by Karin Dienst

Princeton senior Joyce Hwang has been awarded the University’s Henry Richardson Labouisse ’26 Prize, which will allow her to study drug-resistant malaria in Thailand.

The Labouisse fellowship provides $25,000 to support research in developing countries by a graduating senior or a first-year alumnus or alumna who intends to pursue a career devoted to problems of development and modernization.

Joyce Hwang
Joyce Hwang

“I feel so honored and excited,” Hwang, a molecular biology major who grew up in Hong Kong, said about receiving the fellowship. “The beauty of the Labouisse is in allowing you to dream up a project to address something you really care about.”

Hwang will focus on the prevalence of Plasmodium vivax in Mae Sod, a town in western Thailand that borders Myanmar. Plasmodium vivax is a strain of drug-resistant malaria that garners less attention than the more lethal strain, Plasmodium falciparum, but has been associated with adverse effects in pregnant women. Hwang’s work will be based at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit.

“I hope that the research I will be participating in will draw attention to and improve our understanding of the critical issue of drug resistance in vivax and address its challenges to maternal health,” she said.

The project provides an exceptional opportunity for Hwang to employ many of the ideas and skills she has developed while a Princeton student.

In particular, Hwang said it will allow her to put into practice the “phenomenal exposure to research” she has gained through molecular biology courses at the University.

“Princeton provided me with my first encounter with molecular biology and my first experience with lab work, which I found to be addicting and engaging,” said Hwang. She has written her senior thesis on cholera bacteria under the guidance of Bonnie Bassler, the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology.

At the end of her sophomore year, Hwang’s research interests were reinforced when she won a competitive award to study for a summer as an Amgen Scholar at the University of Washington. It was through this experience, working in the lab of malaria specialist Carol Sibley, that she learned about drug-resistant malaria research and “how scientists can affect policy.”

Building on this awareness, Hwang pursued further avenues of study at Princeton that combined her fascination for science with her growing interest in global health. A highlight was taking the course “Infection: Biology, Burden and Policy” in her junior year. Cross-listed with molecular biology and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the course is taught by faculty members Adel Mahmoud, Tom Shenk and Burton Singer, who employ an interdisciplinary approach informed by the life sciences, public policy and global health issues.

“Joyce brought intelligence, compassion and deep insights to the discussion,” said Mahmoud, a senior policy analyst in the Wilson School and a lecturer with the rank of professor in molecular biology. “Her approach to health challenges of the developing world is inspiring, refreshing and reflects her extraordinary commitments.”

Hwang said that the course has served as an inspiration for the research she will conduct in Thailand, which will “integrate lab, clinical and field work, and I hope have real repercussions for policy.”

Before traveling to Thailand, Hwang will receive specific training in the technology she will use in the field at the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, Australia. She then will travel to Singapore for microscopy training before arriving in Thailand in September for nine months of research.

Beyond the lab and classroom, Hwang’s extracurricular activities further underscore her commitment to addressing the needs of vulnerable populations. For four years she has participated with the Student Global AIDS Campaign on campus, recently serving as co-president. She also spent a few weeks in Ayacucho, a remote area of Peru, where she worked at a rural health station and volunteered weekly at a maximum-security prison to help organize basic health care for mothers and their infants. She also volunteers locally at the Eden Institute for Autism.

After her Labouisse fellowship, Hwang plans to attend an M.D./Ph.D. program and eventually work on problems of disease in neglected communities.