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Physiology major wins grand prize at 2022 UURAF

Hari Ramakrishnan always thought he’d be an engineer like his dad.

“In my family, it’s been the norm that all the men go into engineering and all the women go into [informational technology],” he said. “But after I applied and got my acceptances into engineering schools, I realized I didn’t want to be an engineer. I found myself being more passionate about medicine.”

Fortunately for the Shelby Township, Michigan native, he won the Michigan State University Alumni Distinguished Scholarship which awarded him full tuition plus room and board.  

Hari Ramakrishnan is pictured in a lab
Ramakrishnan said working in a lab has been the most rewarding part of this research project. "That's the part that makes you look and feel like a scientist," he said. "The applications you can find have real world outcomes." Credit: Harley Seeley

“I had this this full ride to MSU, and I wanted to study medicine so it made sense,” said Ramakrishnan who ended up majoring in physiology. “The scholarship allowed me to make that switch from engineering and feel comfortable taking the risk.” 

So far, that risk has paid off.  

Just last month, Ramakrishnan won the grand prize at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics category for his research work focused on reducing the side effects of the chemotherapeutic drug, cisplatin, which is used to treat a variety of cancers. He is the first physiology major to win the grand prize.

Geoffroy Laumet, assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Physiology, oversaw Ramakrishnan’s research.

“Hari investigates a crucial unmet need,” said Laumet adding that currently there is no FDA-approved drugs to prevent or lessen the side effects of chemotherapy drugs. “While cisplatin has saved countless lives, the use of cisplatin is restricted by severe disabling side effects such as chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and kidney failure. Hari is showing that in mouse models, an adenosine receptor antagonist could reverse these side effects while improving tumor control. It could be the first time, we identified a drug, that is safe in human, with the potential to reduce cisplatin’s side effects and improve cisplatin tumor control at the same time.”

More than 700 students presented their research and creative arts projects at this year’s UURAF. For his win, Ramakrishnan received $500 which he said will go towards his goals of medical school. 

“I plan to graduate with my bachelors in three years,” said Ramakrishnan who plans to only apply to MSU’s medical school. “If I don’t get in then I’m going to spend my fourth year taking writing and philosophy courses and then try again the following year.”

By: Tyler Lee