Researcher Spotlight: Janani Parameswaran, Ph.D.

Dr. Janani Parameswaran

The ALS Association has pledged to do whatever it takes to make ALS a livable disease, which means longer lives for people living with ALS, greater quality of life for people living with the disease and ultimately the prevention of ALS altogether. Researchers like our 2020 Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship Program recipients are playing an important role in helping to make this happen.

The  Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship Program continues to support young scientists and is the only program of its kind specifically funding early ALS postdoctoral fellows eagerly searching for a cure. Founded in memory of Mr. Safenowitz by the Safenowitz family through The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter, this unique program encourages young scientists to enter and, importantly, to remain in the ALS field.

More than 75% of the postdoctoral fellows the Association funds go on to start their own labs to continue studying ALS and mentor other young ALS researchers. The rest of the Safenowitz fellowship program graduates typically go on to careers in the biomedical industry, nonprofits, and medical writing, with many still staying in the ALS space.

This year, we were proud to support eight new postdoctoral fellows out of a highly competitive applicant pool, two of which were made possible through funds provided by The ALS Association Oregon and SW Washington Chapter. We are excited to highlight each of them on our blog, their dedication and unique contributions to ALS research, as well as their interests outside of the lab.

We talked with Dr. Janani Parameswaran, postdoctoral fellow from Dr. Jie Jiang’s lab at Emory University in Atlanta, to learn more about her and her ALS research focused on unraveling the underlying disease mechanism.

Can you briefly describe your academic background?
I did my undergraduate as well as master’s in the subject of life-sciences at Bharathidasan University, in Tiruchirappalli, India. I pursued my first research at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, under the guidance of Dr. Aruna Satish, and this experience prompted me to develop my interest in the field of research. I did my Ph.D. work in neuroscience at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona with a scholarship in the lab of Dr. Aurora Pujol. I got involved on several preclinical studies for a devastating neurodegenerative disorder, X-linked Adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), where I further advanced my strong interest in the research of neuroscience. I had the privilege of leading a project where I studied the contribution of non-neuronal cells (mainly glia) in X-ALD disease and provided a potential therapy to halt the disease progression in the X-ALD mice model. 

With the said research background, I am continuing my research in the field of neuroscience as a post-doctoral research fellow in Dr. Jie Jiang’s lab at Emory University in Atlanta. I am currently involved in studying the disease mechanism in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) caused by C9orf72 repeat expansions and KIF5A mutations.   

What are the goals of your funded research project?
Disruptions in intracellular transport are implicated in the pathogenesis of ALS. In 2018, mutations in the KIF5A gene were identified as genetic causes of ALS. Although KIF5A is a motor protein important for cargo transport, the pathogenic mechanisms of mutant KIF5A in ALS is unclear. The objective of my project is to unravel the underlying disease mechanism by applying an unbiased proteomic approach using proximity-labeling to identify novel binding partners and evaluate their therapeutic relevance in different model systems.  

What do you like about working in the ALS research field?
It is really an amalgamation of people who unite for research work related to ALS disease. The best part of being here is working so close with meritorious and adorable physicians, scientists and researchers who can help each other mutually to learn new and exciting techniques and provide opportunities to attend and participate in their research symposiums. The wisdom of learned physicians and scientists is of immense help to learn many novel ways and means to attain our ultimate objectives. The prevailing environment paved the way to develop a passion in the field of ALS research and the importance of the role of researchers. 

How might your work impact the ALS community?
I believe that the results to emanate from this study will shine light on how the disrupted axon transport contributed to the disease pathogenesis in ALS patients and imply new therapeutic strategies to treat this devastating disease.   

It is often said that ALS is one of the most complex diseases to understand. Yet, you go to work every day to tackle the challenges of your research. What gives you hope that there will someday be a world without ALS?
Yes, the said statement may be true. Yet, in recent years, there have been exciting developments that offer hope for successful treatment of ALS disease. Several new biomarkers are in the process to better define ALS populations. Nothing is perpetual in the world except the ‘changes,’ and this truth gives me the hope that we can make a world without ALS one day. With numerous brains from different cross sections of the world that have already been engaged towards the direction of finding out the treatment for this disease, I am hopeful that the day when our dreams coming true is not so far. 

What do you like to do when you aren’t in the lab?
Outside the lab, I love cooking, reading research articles and enjoy doing hiking.  

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I really want to thank whole heartedly The ALS Association for supporting my research work by way of a financial grant. I feel honored for having been selected as a Safenowitz Postdoc Fellow. It is a great gesture to mention that this kind of fellowship support for the international researchers, who are at an early stage of their research career and wish to conduct research in the ALS field, will motivate them to continue their research with unstinting dedication. Research is not a destination, it is a journey, and it continues ever till we find a cure for a disease. 

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