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Krithika Rajagopalan
Graduate Student

Hi, my name is Krithika and I come from the beautiful city Pune in India. I received a bachelor's degree in Pharmacy from Pune University. My coursework was mainly focused on the physiology, etiology and management of various diseases. Among the various diseases I explored, cancer caught my attention mainly because, despite a reservoir of knowledge on their complexity and various treatment options, few cancers are treatable, while majority continue to remain fatal. Of all the topics in the pharmacy program, I realized that I was most interested in studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the life threatening diseases. Therefore, I decided to pursue a Master's degree in Biotechnology at the Johns Hopkins University with a concentration in molecular targets and drug discovery technologies.

In an attempt to explore and understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of tumorigenesis, I joined Dr. Prakash Kulkarni's laboratory at Johns Hopkins School of medicine as a trainee. Dr. Kulkarni's lab is primarily interested in a group of heterogeneous proteins known as Cancer /Testis Antigens or CTAs and their role in prostate cancer. These proteins possess unique expression patterns; they are expressed primarily in the testicular germ cells but are aberrantly expressed in several types of cancer. However, the functions of most CTAs remains poorly understood. Using bioinformatics, we found that most CTAs were Intrinsically Disordered Proteins (IDPs), proteins that lack a rigid structure at least in vitro, and are frequently over-expressed in several pathological conditions. In fact, these proteins have an innate ability to engage in promiscuous interactions and undergo a transition from disorder to order a process referred to as coupled folding and binding. This study provided a novel perspective on the role of CTAs and underscored their potential role in information processing and transfer. We also proposed a model based on how, despite lack of structure, nascent disordered polypeptides emerging from the ribosome, transiently bind to chaperones, thereby undergoing a disorder to order transition and thus escaping proteasomal degradation. I worked on various projects in Dr. Kulkarni's lab. Using various biochemical and structural studies we were able to gain additional insight into the function of PAGE4 (Prostate associated gene 4) a CTA as well as an IDP. 

My research experience in Dr. Kulkarni's lab has helped me to channelize my thoughts and focus my attention on how to think as a scientist and ask the right questions. Furthermore, it made me aware that a scientist's mind has to be facile enough to appreciate nature both from a systems perspective as well as a reductionist perspective to fully appreciate how a system works regardless of whether one is studying development or disease. My research experience was primarily in biochemistry mainly protein chemistry and molecular biology however at Columbia I wish to explore other areas like cell and developmental biology where I could study the role of key protein networks in development and disease.

Apart from my passion for science, I enjoy reading, dancing (especially Zumba) and listening to music. I also enjoy travelling and exploring new areas. I am looking forward to a wonderful experience at Columbia University.

Krithika Rajagopalan