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  • Writer's pictureBecker's Hospital Review

Keck Med professor among Time's women of the year

Updated: Jun 17


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By: Alexis Kayser (Email)

Thursday, February 22nd, 2024

Marlena Fejzo, PhD — a geneticist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine —  is one of Time's women of the year

Dr. Fejzo, 56, grew ill during her second pregnancy and was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a condition causing extreme nausea and vomiting in 1-3% of pregnancies. 

Her physician downplayed her symptoms, suggesting that many women exaggerate their pain for sympathy, Dr. Fejzo told the magazine. The physician did not prescribe a feeding tube until it was too late, and she lost the fetus. 

Dr. Fejzo — who received her PhD in genetics at Harvard University, and researched at the University of California campuses in both Los Angeles and San Francisco — began to research the condition. In 2020, more than two decades after her diagnosis, she published a paper in Nature Communications suggesting a genetic variant that could predispose people to HG. 

In 2023, her second paper in Nature reported that people with the condition have high levels of the hormone GDF15 during pregnancy, but lower-than-average levels prior to pregnancy. By supplementing high-risk patients with the hormone before pregnancy, or lowering the levels during pregnancy, physicians might be able to reduce the system-shock that causes vomiting and nausea. 

Dr. Fejzo is now the chief scientific officer of  Harmonia Healthcare, a specialty women's health platform that launched Feb. 21, according to a news release shared with Becker's. This year, Harmonia aims to open a HG-specific treatment center in New Jersey, and eventually hopes to expand to New York City. Dr. Fejzo is named alongside 11 other Time women of the year, including "Barbie" Director Greta Gerwig; Singer Audra Day; and Nobel Laureate Claudia Goldin, PhD.

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