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Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

Hi, my name is Kamakoti Bhat, but I just go by Kami. I am from Chennai, India. I have a bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Biotechnlogy from AC tech, Anna University- Guindy campus. Near the end of my under-graduation, I applied to several colleges in the US and I chose Vanderbilt because I really liked the IGP (International Graduate) program. It is a very broad program and it gives me the freedom to really look at each lab individually and the flexibility to choose which department to affiliate to.

I have always been very passionate about understanding the basic biology and mechanisms that underlie complex diseases, including cancer

I am interested in the basic biology of DNA replication and repair, and how these fundamental processes are deregulated in cancer. At the end of my first year, I chose to enter the lab of Dave Cortez, and the department of Biochemistry.  Human cells possess a signalling network of proteins that sense and repair DNA damage, thereby preserving genomic integrity. In diseases like cancer, many of these proteins are mutated, giving rise to genomic instability. However, this also poses a unique therapeutic opportunity to selectively target cancer cells that have mutations in these proteins. I study SMARCAL1, an integral component of the cellular response to DNA damage.

Tell us about your work

She is the first Vanderbilt graduate student to win an “F99/K00” predoctoral-to-postdoctoral fellow transition award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The grant program is designed to help outstanding graduate students achieve their dreams of becoming independent cancer researchers.

Bhat’s six-year, $400,000 grant, awarded this fall, will enable her to continue her research on molecular mechanisms of genome maintenance during DNA replication and repair through her graduation next fall and beyond.

In normal cells, a signaling network of proteins sense and repair DNA damage. In diseases such as cancer, many of these proteins are mutated, resulting in genomic instability. Understanding how these proteins work may shed light on new ways to prevent or reverse cancer.

Tell us about your scholarships

Bhat graduated at the top of her class, and received two research fellowships as an undergraduate.

She was admitted to the Graduate School through the Vanderbilt International Scholar Program (VISP) in 2012, and has published two papers as a graduate student, one as first author in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the other in Molecular Cell.

Bhat plans to start looking for post-doctoral positions early next year.