Final Words: Geethanjali Vipulananda
1) Your name, program, mentor name.
Geethanjali Vipulanandan, Geetha for short
D.D.S./Ph.D. dual degree program – started in 2011 and about to graduate this May 2018
Mentor: Dr. David Kadosh, Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics
2) When did you realize you were passionate about science?
As I was growing up, my mom who is a pediatrician and my father who is a civil engineer, got me involved in many science clubs, starting at a very young age. It was in college at University of Houston, that my passion for practical applications to human physiology was nurtured. I worked closely with three other students on a senior design project that gave us the opportunity to address a real-life problem. As a team, we designed and developed a wireless power transfer system, which could be potentially used in case of battery failure in an artificial pacemaker. Not only did we present our project to our engineering school, but we also had a session with high school students to engage them in the research and development process along with the biology behind our concept. In addition, I was selected to be a student research intern in the Radiology Department at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston, Texas. I took part in a project that investigated the ability of High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) to disrupt the extracellular matrix
in vitro with an eye towards improving drug delivery to highly collagenous tumors. The presentation and first-author publication of these research results were incredibly rewarding. This project became my undergraduate Senior Honors Thesis. Through these opportunities, it was fulfilling to experience the power of teamwork, teaching and inspiring students, and the application of engineering principles to healthcare research. I realized that my passion truly lies in both translational research and teaching in the healthcare field.
3) Please tell me about yourself, why did you pick UT Health San Antonio, and your program.
I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. I studied biomedical engineering at University of Houston – The Honors College. I then accepted a position at UT Health San Antonio – DDS/PhD dual degree program. I wanted to attend a well-funded research institution with a dynamic environment that promotes collaboration and nurtures personal growth as a researcher. Since I specifically wanted to pursue a
DDS/PhD dual degree, not only did I want to attend a state-of-the art research institution, but also attend an institution with a well-established dental program. As I was interviewing with different schools, it became apparent to me that the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio was a perfect fit. Not only did it have many core research facilities that I would have access to as a researcher, but it also had a well-rounded graduate program (then called the Integrated Multidisciplinary Graduate Program) that allowed me to explore my interests and a highly-ranked dental program.
) Tell me about your research. Why are you passionate about your research topic? How did you first become interested in it?
Our lab studies the pathogenesis and virulence of Candida – the most common type of yeast infection found in mucosal niches such as the mouth and the intestinal tract.
Candida species are commensal human fungal pathogens that thrive in mucosal niches and are known to persist in combination as mixed biofilms intraorally. In many immunocompromised patients, these biofilms are associated with oral candidiasis (oral thrush), the most common opportunistic fungal infection in humans. Unfortunately, these biofilm communities are more resistant to antimicrobial treatment than single, planktonic cells. Although C. albicans is the predominant organism found in oral thrush infections, there is an increasing incidence of isolates consisting of non-albicans Candida species (C. glabrata, C. dubliniensis and C. tropicalis). The emergence of non-albicans Candida species that are intrinsically drug resistant or rapidly develop drug resistance is clinically relevant as conventional doses of antifungals are frequently ineffective at treating infections caused by these species. While single-species Candida biofilms have been well-studied, considerably less is known about the dynamics of Candida species in mixed biofilms in response to antifungal treatment. We have recently developed a highly accurate quantitative-PCR-based approach to determine the precise species composition of mixed Candida species biofilms. We have used this assay to determine how the species composition of mixed Candida biofilms changes following antifungal treatment (using clinically relevant concentrations of fluconazole, caspofungin and amphotericin B).
5) What has been the highlight of graduate school so far? Have you won any awards or have there been any achievements you’ve been proud of?
– Received a perfect impact score 10 on my F30 grant from NIH/NIDCR in 2012,
– Selected as the sole student to represent UT Health San Antonio at the Colgate Dental Research Conference in 2015 in Bethesda
– My first-author manuscript was recently published in the Journal of Dental Research;
Vipulanandan G, Herrera M, Wiederhold NP, li X, Mintz J, Wickes BL and Kadosh D. Dynamics of Mixed-Candida Species Biofilms in Response to Antifungals. Journal of Dental Research. 971:91-98. (2018). PMCID: PMC5755808
6) What do you like most about being at UT Health San Antonio or your program?
The inviting nature of the campus and the family-feel. The supportiveness of our faculty and their constant guidance to reach our full potential.
7) What do you like to do outside of graduate school?
Indian classical dance, playing with my puppy (A yorkie named Ace), swimming, visiting family and friends
8) What’s next?
I am going back home. Recently participated in Match and was accepted into my top choice – Advanced General Dentistry residency at University of Texas School of Dentistry – Houston.