Dr. Denuja Karunakaran is the recipient of the 2019 American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP) Young Scientist Leadership Award, which recognizes individuals who are demonstrating outstanding and sustained achievements at the earliest stages of their career in biomedical research.
Dr. Peter Liu, Chief Scientific Officer at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in Canada and a recent mentor to Dr. Karunakaran, is one of many supporters of Dr. Karunakaran’s career path and nomination for this award, citing her “enthusiasm, innovation, determination and diligence in performing rigorous and cutting-edge research,” along with her “passion for understanding the intricate molecular mechanisms that cause cardiometabolic diseases and [for] identifying novel therapeutic strategies to treat these diseases.” Indeed, there is consensus among her academic and societal colleagues that for someone to accomplish as much as Dr. Karunakaran has at this early stage of her career is an impressive feat. One distinguishing feature, as illustrated by Dr. Liu’s description and echoed by all her nominators, is the passion with which she approaches her work, be it research, teaching, mentoring, lecturing, organizing and chairing scientific sessions at conferences, or volunteering for committee work at one of the professional societies of which she is a member.
According to ASIP Executive Officer Dr. William B. Coleman, since joining ASIP in 2015, Dr. Karunakaran has been an active member of the Society. Most recently, in October of 2018, she helped organize and co-chair, “Vascular Pathobiology: Discovery at the Blood-Tissue Interface,” a major session at ASIP’s PISA meeting, during which she gave a talk based on her own research on the topic. One of the many reasons she has been invited each year since 2016 to co-chair or moderate sessions at ASIP annual meetings is her ability to communicate complex concepts to peers and trainees alike. She brings great energy and enthusiasm to her committee work, which includes active participation in career development and educational activities and events. She has also been an active member of ASIP’s Program Committee, which she joined in 2016, and for which she has co-chaired the Blood Vessel ClubTM, one of ASIP’s scientific interest groups. As observed by Dr. Liu, “Dr. Karunakaran has proven to be a leader among her peers within ASIP and is working towards being a leader within the Society overall…It is good to know that we have strong young leaders coming through the pipeline to sustain our Society for decades to come.”
In addition to her membership in ASIP, Dr. Karunakaran is also a member of several other professional societies including the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), the American Heart Association (ATVB Council), the Australian Atherosclerosis Society (AAS)/ European Atherosclerosis Society (EAS), and the Australian Vascular Biology Society (AVBS). She volunteers her time and effort to these organizations, including organizing meetings for the Australian Society for Medical Research, the Canadian Society for Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, and the Gordon Research Seminar on Atherosclerosis. It is also worth mentioning, as pointed out by Dr. William Muller, Professor of Pathology at Northwestern Medicine and Chair of ASIP’s Research and Science Policy Committee, that “she has [also] served as a poster judge and abstract reviewer…Treasurer for the Australian Society for Medical Research New South Wales, co-organizer of the Symposia Committee for the Group for Research in Inflammation and Pathogenesis in Ottawa, and Vice President of the University of Ottawa Postdoctoral Committee,” to name but a few of the other roles she has played.
Dr. Karunakaran began her academic work by earning a BS with honors (1st class) and a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Monash University in Australia. For her doctoral studies, she focused on platelet adhesion and activation mechanisms, writing her dissertation on Molecular regulation of the platelet adhesion receptors Glycoprotein Ib-IX-V and VI. These studies led to six published papers. While working on her PhD, Dr. Karunakaran simultaneously completed a Graduate Certificate in Commercialising Research at Monash University in conjunction with the Department of Education, Science, and Training of the Australian Government. The purpose of this program is to teach best practices for managing research projects and equip graduate research students with sufficient knowledge to protect and market their intellectual property.
Starting with her first postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. David Berndt at the University of New South Wales in Australia where she focused on membrane trafficking in macrophages, Dr. Karunakaran began to develop an interest in atherosclerosis, in particular macrophage-driven mechanisms. Three published papers emerged from this period, including one on macrophage ApoE secretion. She subsequently entered a second postdoctoral fellowship, at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) in Canada, in the laboratory of Dr. Katey Rayner. Her research there involved work on miR-33 regulation of mitochondrial respiration and macrophage necroptosis in atherosclerosis. During her time at UOHI, she published eight primary papers and three reviews. Over the course of her career thus far, she has published thirteen peer-reviewed manuscripts, with three more either in revision or preparation, and eight abstracts. Additionally, she has been invited to write ten editorials/reviews.
She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including but not limited to the Young Investigator Award from the Australian Vascular Biology Society, the [Australian] Heart Foundation Research Award, the Ottawa Group for Research in Inflammation & Pathogenesis, the Gordon Conference on Atherosclerosis, and from the ASIP, the Experimental Pathologist-in-Training Award (2017) and the George K. Michalopoulos Junior Faculty Travel Award (2018).
Dr. Karunakaran is co-inventor on two patents: (1) Rayner, K, Ruddy, T, Karunakaran, D, Wei, L. “Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment of A Cardiovascular Disease,” US-2016-0324992-A1, Nov, 2016; and (2) Rayner, K, Karunakaran, D, McPherson, R, “Compositions and Methods for Detection. Risk Assessment and Treatment of Diabetes, Obesity, and Inflammation,” provisional patent application in process.
She has secured two sources of funding for her recent work for which she was named Chief or Principal Investigator: (1) Chief Investigator, 2018 Project Grant, National Health and Medical Research, Australia, “RIPK1: A Central Regulator of Inflammation and Death Pathways in Cardiometabolic Syndromes,” and (2) Principal Investigator, 2019 Project Grant, Rebecca L Cooper Medical Research Foundation, Australia, “Therapeutic Targeting of the RIPK1 Gene in Psoriasis and Associated Atherosclerosis.”
Dr. Peter Liu provided the following summary which encapsulates both Denuja Karunakaran and the spirit of the Young Scientist Leadership Award: “Denuja is an outstanding young rising star with exceptional scientific talent, leadership skills, a collaborative spirit, and dedicated work ethic. She is highly motivated and meticulous and has demonstrated tremendous early career success. Importantly, she’s very determined and dedicated in pursuing a research academic career path, and I am confident that she will establish herself as an outstanding academic leader and make her home institution and ASIP most proud of her escalating accomplishments and garnering accolades…”
Dr. Karunakaran will be presented the Young Scientist Leadership Award at the 2019 Experimental Biology (EB)/ASIP Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, during the ASIP Business Meeting on Monday, April 8 at 5:15 PM.
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