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About the Institute

Profile of Sujeetha Rajakumar

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Sujeetha Rajakumar

By: Jacob Sintzel

Sujeetha Rajakumar

  • PhD Candidate, Genetics & Genome Biology

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I was born and raised in Madurai, a city in the southern part of India. I completed all my schooling and undergraduate degree in India. My strong interest in genetics and medicine prompted me to do my master’s degree in molecular genetics at the University of Leicester, UK. I was motivated to continue my graduate education in Canada and did my second master’s degree in biochemistry and medical genetics from the University of Manitoba. From there on, I took a break from graduate school to explore my interest in science. 

I moved to Montreal where I accepted a position as a research assistant at the Lady Davis Institute at McGill University to study the biology of Alzheimer’s disease. I further had an opportunity to work as a technical officer at the National Research Council (NRC) in Saskatoon in the field of plant molecular biotechnology. Since I have always wanted to work in a multi-disciplinary academic health research setting, I moved to Toronto and found a position here at SickKids in Dr. Jayne Danska’s laboratory. 

I worked as a research technologist for a few years and took my time determining my strengths and my future goals to move forward. My experiences working with Dr. Danska helped me to realize my potential at independent research based on integrative and analytical thinking and the ability to communicate the work. I decided to stay in academic research and to make my contribution to the field of cancer. So, I enrolled in a PhD program at the department of medical biophysics at the University of Toronto and currently pursuing my research work at Sickkids under the guidance of Dr. Jayne Danska and Dr. Cynthia Guidos.

2. What are you researching right now?
I am currently working on my PhD research project that focuses on studying B-Cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL), which is a type of blood cancer. Both children and adults get this disease, and the overall survival rate in children is almost approaching 90%, which is great but the prognosis is really poor for adults and the children who relapse. Paediatric ALL survivors also face other co-morbidities and one major complication is the bone destruction. Due to both the leukemia and the corticosteroid treatment related effects, the vertebral and the femur bones are affected in children with ALL. The children are diagnosed with vertebral compression, fractures and severe bone pain during ALL diagnosis. Therefore, by using both mouse models and human leukemic cells taken from ALL patients, my study is focused on understanding the molecular mechanism of how the leukemic cells cause bone destruction. Also, I focus on Central Nervous System (CNS) leukemia where we are currently investigating how the leukemic cells enter the brain thereby causing relapsed ALL.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist and why?
My all-time favorite scientist would be Francis Collins. He is a physician - geneticist and the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he has made significant genetic discoveries on various diseases and also led the human genome project. As for my favourite mentor, I would have to say my current supervisor, Dr. Jayne Danska, because she has played a major role in mentoring me with my career decisions. When I was working as a research technologist, she motivated and encouraged me to pursue a PhD degree. My research training with Dr. Danska as my supervisor has been a valuable learning experience, where she always gives me the freedom to think, design and execute my own ideas in my research projects.  She prudently sets the bar high and challenges me to guide me in the right direction.

4. What in your opinion is the most important scientific breakthrough and why?
I would say it’s Rosalind Franklin’s  discovery of the molecular structure of DNA and RNA. Franklin was an x-ray crystallographer who made the discovery when she was very young, she lived for only 37 years but has made a great contribution towards science. Her x-ray diffraction image of DNA resulted in the discovery of DNA double helix structure. This certainly took the DNA and RNA discovery to the next level.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
Outside the lab, I love running. I have done a half-marathon, and many 5K and 10K runs. I like exercise training as a whole, as it makes me happy in addition to maintaining my physical health. I also love driving; being behind the wheel going on road trips is my stress-reliever. I’m not car crazed, but I like driving, even motorbikes. I used to own one back home, but not here — it’s too dangerous!

6. Why science?
When I was growing up, I always excelled in science subjects in school and have always found myself asking questions and seeking answers. The quest to know more is a part of science and is something that I love to pursue. Research in science can be challenging, it needs a lot of patience and perseverance and you come across hurdles, but eventually you get a great satisfaction out of your work through finding new things and solving puzzles. At the end of the day, it is a very rewarding and gratifying experience to know that you have discovered something new and have added to the continuum of great discoveries.

7. Why SickKids?
SickKids is a world-renowned organization and the diversity here appealed to me. At SickKids, basic science research is outstanding, where we have great facilities to carry out ground-breaking research. The environment fosters collaborative work with eminent scientists. In my research project, I use multiple techniques and we have all the necessary core facilities under one roof, which is awesome! I think that’s a big deal for scientists, especially for trainees.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
I would think its personalized medicine. Personalized medicine is where treatment is tailored to an individual patient based on their disease risk. There are a lot of ethical issues surrounding it and we are yet to know if it’s cost-effective or how well the data can be handled and interpreted.

9. What are you reading right now?
I am reading the signature series by C.S. Lewis, which is a compilation of some of his non-fictional work. He is the author of the fictional book, The Chronicles of Narnia. He was a British novelist, poet and an English professor from the early 1900s, who also wrote a lot of non-fictional Christian apologetics including, The Problem of Pain, Grief Observed, Mere Christianity.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
First, I would say identify where your passion lies. In other words, identify your strengths and weakness and choose an area of research that interests and motivates you. In the course of your research career, “It’s not about the destination, but the journey that matters.” Learn to enjoy the process and try to make the most use of the great resources which are provided to you.

11. What does the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning mean to you?
The PGCRL is a great facility and we have everything under one roof. The facility itself fosters collaboration; we meet a lot of people here from other research programs which sparks our creativity through conversing and brainstorming with scientists from different research groups across the RI.    

May 2017