Uma Neelakantan

Uma Neelakantan’s motivation for pursuing a PhD in biomedical sciences is rooted close to home. Born in Memphis, Tenn., her passion for helping others and pursuing translational research was inspired by a family member navigating the health care system, along with her time volunteering at St. Jude. She received a Bachelor of Science in public health with a concentration in biology from American University through the three-year Public Health Scholars Program. 

At American University, she worked in the lab of Dr. John Bracht performing a drug screen of over 30 FDA-approved drugs on a colon cancer cell line. She analyzed changes in DNA methylation to identify compounds that could be potential epigenetic targets for therapy.  

These experiences motivated her to pursue a postbaccalaureate research position in Dr. Ellen Hoffman’s lab at Yale University. In the Hoffman lab, they utilized zebrafish as a system to study the basic biological mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental disorders, specifically autism spectrum disorder. Her primary project was developing a user-friendly, computational pipeline to investigate how brain structure and activity patterns change when disrupting the function of genes associated with autism spectrum disorders. This experience solidified her desire to pursue a PhD in biomedical sciences and incorporate a ‘byte-to-bedside’ approach to address translational research questions.

At the St. Jude Graduate School, Neelakantan intends to combine both wet lab and computational approaches to the fields of neuroscience and cancer biology and is enthusiastic to continue building and sharing user-friendly computational tools. 

Hometown: Germantown, TN

Weinschutz Mendes, H., Neelakantan, U., Liu, Y., Fitzpatrick, S.E., Chen, T., Wu, W., Pruitt, A., Jin, D.S., Jamadagni, P., Carlson, M., et al. (2023). High-throughput functional analysis of autism genes in zebrafish identifies convergence in dopaminergic and neuroimmune pathways. Cell Rep 42, 112243. 10.1016/j.celrep.2023.112243.

Jin D*, Neelakantan U*, M. Lacadie CM, Chen T, Rooney B, Liu Y, Wu W, Wang Z  Papademetris X, Hoffman EJ. An Automated Pipeline for Whole-Brain Activity and Structural Analyses. Submitted.