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Young Investigator: Namrata Raut, PhD

By October 26, 2022December 18th, 2023Awards & Grants, NF1, Science & Research

The Young Investigator Award (YIA) provides two-year salary support to early career NF researchers to help them get established as independent NF investigators. Since its inception, several YIAs have made groundbreaking research findings and notable publications through this program, and many have advanced to become leaders in the NF research and clinical communities.

We’re pleased to introduce some of these researchers from the latest class of awardees: Namrata Raut tells us about her research and being part of the community.

What are you hoping to learn from this project?

The majority of NF1 patients experience moderate to severe neuropathic pain. However, the underlying mechanisms of pain development are not fully understood. Hence by the end of this project, I hope to find out the role of different cell types giving rise to pain in NF1. This will hopefully lead to the development of new therapeutic targets designed to ameliorate pain in this devastating disease.

What are your long-term research goals?

Since I started my work on the mechanisms of pain development in patients with NF, I have become extremely interested in the molecular mechanisms behind the development of pediatric pain in the context of tumorigenic diseases. My current project investigates the interaction of afferent neurons and Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system to determine the effect of different growth factors produced by Schwann cells in the onset of peripheral hypersensitivity in NF1. I would like to adapt the techniques and academic skills required for the completion of the project along with the exceptional mentorship from my committee to develop a project to apply for a K99/R00 award from the NIH studying the development of pain and how this is influenced by the developmental changes in the nervous system. This will help me in achieving my long-term goal of becoming a tenure-track investigator at a cutting-edge research facility.

Tell us about life in a research lab. What's a typical day look like?

A typical day in the lab starts with my tea/coffee (very important!). Then it is catching up with emails and then starting the experiments as planned for the day. Planning is the key to success! I usually do behavior assays in the morning followed by molecular techniques like immunohistochemistry (IHC), quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), etc. Electrophysiology usually is a full-day experiment that constitutes dissection and recordings afterward. Also, the casual discussion with lab members and my PI often sparks ideas that you thought of that can really shape future studies or experimentation.

My research focuses on pain in pediatric populations, it also helps me to design different projects for my mentee for More Active Girls in Computing (MAGIC).

What brought you to the NF research field?

My Ph.D. project was focused on the geranylgeranylated Rho GTPase protein and its role in neurodegenerative diseases. So, when I joined the Jankowski lab and after a discussion with my PI Dr. Michael Jankowski about the ongoing project in NF1, it fits very well with my previous research. This is the perfect amalgamation of utilizing what I learned as a student and then utilizing my previous experiences and current training to expand my understanding of the fields of sensory neuroscience and glial biology.

What do you like to do when you're not in the lab?

I mentor at MAGIC which focuses on mentoring high school girls to complete projects in STEM and hence follow a career in STEM. I write articles on online publishing platforms (Medium) and “Annapurna Times” based in Nepal. I am also on the central executive committee of the Association of Nepali Teraian in America (ANTA).

Also, I love watching DC/MCU movies, jamming to AC/DC (that was my stress buster in my Ph.D.), driving, and spending time with family. I do enjoy reading books. My all-time favorite is “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow.

What does it mean to you to receive this funding from CTF?

The funding from CTF is a true honor. It is a privilege to be recognized by leaders in the NF1 field as potentially contributing important knowledge to this area of research. I am encouraged by this award to reach my full potential as a young investigator. The CTF funding has validated the hard work being done every day in the lab. Hopefully, my research will one day lead to a better quality of life for people living with conditions such as NF1.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

During my Ph.D., my project was focused on the central nervous system (CNS), and as I started my post-doctoral training, I began learning about the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and supporting cells in PNS. It is intriguing to see how the different aspects of the nervous system interact to create a biological phenomenon. Science is truly fascinating. I could not have achieved this without the unparalleled mentorship from my PI, Dr. Michael Jankowski, and co-mentors Drs. Ratner, Krueger and Goldschneider.

I would like to thank the Jankowski lab, my mentoring committee, and all my past mentors (Dr. Averitt particularly for guiding me in the pain field during my Ph.D.) who have always supported me in all my endeavors and helped me grow scientifically. And last but not the least, I appreciate the Children’s Tumor Foundation for this amazing opportunity.

The Children’s Tumor Foundation Discovery Fund is an $8-10 million initiative supporting the Foundation’s longstanding commitment to driving and funding the best and most promising neurofibromatosis (NF) research. Discovery Fund researchers will focus on NF drug development, including basic science to pre-clinical and early-stage clinical trials, with the goal of developing new treatments and potential cures for NF1, NF2, MPNSTs and schwannomatosis.

Learn more about the Young Investigator Awards here.