Dr. Saumya Ramanathan: Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research

By Lin Lofley

Dr. Saumya Ramanathan
Dr. Saumya Ramanathan

Dr. Saumya Ramanathan, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Maralice Conacci-Sorrell, Assistant Professor of Cell Biology, has been selected to receive the 2017 Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center, the highest award given annually to a postdoctoral scholar participating in the graduate school’s Postdoctoral Certificate Training Program.

It recognizes traits of the successful recipient – creativity, productivity, and presentation skills – as well as attributes of the research project the postdoc is involved in, including originality, depth, and impact. The winner of the award receives $2,000, a framed certificate, and the honor of presenting a University Lecture on her research.

“It is truly an honor to receive this award, and I would like to take this opportunity to recognize all the postdocs at UT Southwestern who are doing outstanding work,” Dr. Ramanathan said. “I also must thank my parents, Meena and the late Ramanathan K. Iyer, for their unwavering support.”

Dr. Ramanathan’s studies focus on the oncogene Myc, which is deregulated in about 80 percent of cancers of the human body.

“We have discovered that Myc-expressing cells are addicted to tryptophan-derived metabolite kynurenine,” she said. “Starving Myc-expressing cells of tryptophan and therefore kynurenine, or inhibiting kynurenine synthesis, results in selective death of Myc-expressing cells.”

Dr. Conacci-Sorrell said, “Saumya is a very talented scientist, a fearless and meticulous experimentalist, and a knowledgeable scholar and a collaborative colleague. She is sharp and has a ‘can-do’ attitude that allows her to tackle complex biological questions effectively.”

A native of Madras, India, Dr. Ramanathan earned her undergraduate degree in zoology from the University of Madras before coming to the U.S. to study at the LSU Health Science Center in Baton Rouge, LA. Not long after her arrival at LSU, she was suddenly on a bus as she and more than a million of other people were evacuated from the path of Hurricane Katrina.

She first stepped onto Texas soil at a rest stop in Beaumont, and she kept traveling to Arizona, where her brother was working as a structural engineer. Dr. Ramanathan picked up her studies there, eventually earning her doctorate in molecular and cell biology from the University of Arizona, where she met Dr. Hemant Badgandi, now a researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Saikat Mukhopadhyay, Assistant Professor of Cell Biology. They were married in 2011 and now do their research on adjoining floors of the C. Kern Wildenthal Research Building on the North Campus.

“I wanted to be a veterinarian but could not stomach the idea of animals in pain and wound up studying biotechnology, and I found I enjoyed being in the lab in grad school,” said Dr. Ramanathan, who will soon begin a faculty position at another institution.

“I like mentoring, and I like learning new things, and I like research, but research is not a 9-to-5 job. It takes a lot of effort.”

Dr. Sandra Schmid, Chair and Professor of Cell Biology, said, “I was immediately impressed by Saumya’s maturity and self-awareness. Her intellect, commitment, and enthusiasm for science has, and will, continue to ensure her success as she takes on the critical challenges of science undergraduate education, while establishing her own research program.”

Runner up for the award was Dr. Rui Yue of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute laboratory headed by Dr. Sean Morrison, Professor of the Institute and of Pediatrics. Dr. Yue received a certificate and a $500 award. He has returned to his native China to take up a faculty position.

Dr. Conacci-Sorrell is a Virginia Murchison Linthicum Scholar in Medical Research.

Dr. Morrison holds the Kathryne and Gene Bishop Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Research at Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern, and the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics.

Dr. Schmid holds the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair in Cellular and Molecular Biology