Akhila Rajan

The theme of communication has pervaded my scientific pursuits thus far. For my graduate work, in Hugo Bellen's lab at Baylor College of Medicine, I investigated how cells communicate so that the right cell types are specified during nervous system development. Then, I became curious about how organs communicate with each other in the context of physiological changes, such as alterations in food supply. This inter-organ communication + nutrition question I modeled in fruit flies, as a post-doc, with Norbert Perrimon in Harvard Medical school. This led me to identify how fruit fly fat cells communicate nutrient status to brain circuits. Remarkably the molecule used by fruit flies to perform this feat of inter-organ communication, is the same one we humans use to communicate our overall fat stores to our brain circuits. Lack of this important hormone, called Leptin, in humans leads to obesity. Moreover, when there is a surplus of circulating Leptin it again causes energy imbalance. This oversupply of Leptin in our blood due to increased fat stores is the main cause of common obesity, and is termed "Leptin resistance". And why too much circulating Leptin causes obesity is poorly understood. Having now established a Leptin-like model in fruit flies, that is an excellent genetic model, I'm positioned to tackle this, and other more basic questions pertaining to energy balance (see "projects" section).  Whether I am at the bench or away from it, I'm always found hooked to my audiobooks (British literature). When I am really away from the bench, I usually potter around my kitchen trying my hand at new recipes.