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Karuna Subramaniam, Ph.D.
I am originally from: New Delhi, India
Today, I live in: San Francisco, California
My Undergraduate Degree was in: Biology and Psychology from: Knox College
My Graduate Degree was in: Neuroscience from: Northwestern University
I currently work at: University of California San Francisco
About My Work:
My field of study is: Schizophrenia
I enjoy this because: Most research is a lot of hard work where we mostly get non-significant results so it is very exciting and rewarding when one finally attains significant results, which could move science research forward in a way that we had not previously realized. Specifically, in my case, this means having the chance to develop and test novel treatments for schizophrenia to help improve patients’ symptoms, cognition and overall quality of life.
I am currently working on: The Cognitive Remediation in Schizophrenia (CRIS) project which is conducted in Dr. Sophia Vinogradov’s laboratory at the Veteran Affairs Medical Centre and at the University of California San Francisco. In this project, we utilize a combination of neuropsychological assessments, brain imaging methodologies (fMRI and MEG), and blood serum measures (such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (i.e., BDNF) levels) to investigate how schizophrenia patients perform on various cognitive tasks at baseline in comparison to healthy people. Patients are then randomly assigned to either a cognitive training condition, where they engage in targeted cognitive exercises for 16 weeks, or to a computer-game control condition where patients play computer games for 16 weeks. At the end of 16 weeks, all patients and healthy controls engage in the same assessments that were conducted at baseline. This longitudinal study enables us to investigate the neural activity associated with cognitive improvement, as well as to be able to correlate this cognitive improvement with improvement in symptom levels, blood serum measures (such as BDNF which helps support survival of neurons) and overall daily functioning in patients’ actual lives.
More About Me:
Right Handed or Left Handed: Right handed all the way.
What is your favorite word? It would have to be: Neural-plasticity! Seriously. There is so much oomph in this word. For instance, it was only slightly more than a decade ago that people thought that brain cells (i.e., neurons) once dead could not regenerate. Now we know that there is a strong association between learning and neurogenesis, which suggests that the brain is plastic (rather than fixed), and that neural impairments can be reversible and correctible. Therefore, I think this word provides hope for finding novel treatments of various neuropsychiatric disorders, and suggests that patients’ neural and cognitive deficits can improve if these impaired cognitive processes are ‘trained’ in adaptive ways (i.e., for a start, by using medication with well-designed targeted cognitive remediation therapies)
What place in the world would you most like to visit? Greece is my target now!
Do you have any nicknames? Karuxe (pronounced kar-ooox) was a nickname given to me by my friends in high-school, while growing up in Botswana, Southern Africa. I ensured it’s survival across continents.
What was the last song that played on your iPod? ‘C’mon’ by Diplo and Tiesto. I find this song inspiring particularly because this is practically the only word in the whole song!
Favorite TV show: Mind Your Language—a British comedy series about an English Professor who tries very hard to teach English to a class of foreign students. Unfortunately, the students’ brains don’t seem to be too plastic here.
Desk: messy or organized? I would say “leaning towards messy.” My mum would say “Leaning towards messy? I can’t even find your desk!”
How many languages can you speak and what are they? I can speak 6 languages in varying degrees of fluency. They are: 1. English-because…well quite simply because… I have spoken English throughout my life. 2. French-because I have studied it for 10 years and have lived in a small town in France for 6 months where the only English word people knew was “Allo!” 3. Hindi ( a North Indian language) —I speak badly enough to make cab drivers in Delhi want to take me for a ride (pun intended); but then also well enough to have convinced the immigration officials at Delhi airport not to deport me back to the U.S. when I once arrived in Delhi, forgetting to bring my Indian Passport with me. 4. Tamil and Malayalam (2 different South Indian languages) --I speak both of these equally badly. 5. Setswana (a language spoken in Botswana, the country in which I was raised)—I speak just enough to get myself into trouble
Do you play any instruments? Sadly no. My ‘musicophilia’ is confined to listening
Your Perfect Pizza: Any pizza made where it was first born-in Italy!
If I was not doing what I am doing today, I might be working as: If not a scientist, then possibly a doctor. Since I was a girl of 5 years, I’ve always had a one-track mind for science and medicine.
Here is what I'd like to share with the world: Neural-plasticity is real! Stay happy and humorous—We will hopefully be able to provide more scientific evidence soon as to why, where and how positive mood states can have cognitive-enhancing effects in the brains of healthy people and in patients with various neuropsychiatric disorders. See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/science/07brain.html for our initial results on the cognitive enhancing effects of positive mood states in healthy people.
Click here to meet some other NARSAD Young Investigators