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Sunny Narayanan, PhD, LE&RN Travel Award recipient, talks about attending the NIH Conference

Sunny Narayanan, PhD, LE&RN Travel Award recipient, talks about attending the NIH Conference

1. What did you get out of the Conference? Why did you feel it was important to attend?

The NIH Conference, "The Third Circulation," was my first conference where the focus was specifically on the lymphatic system. It provided a great overview by leaders in the field of what we know about lymphatics in general as well as key questions left to be answered/explored. It was very insightful to be able to attend the various lectures from individuals in the field whose papers and research I’ve read about and put names to faces. Additionally, being able to hear from Principal Investigators directly, and more importantly the discussions that followed, was very beneficial to me as there are nuances to research you sometimes cannot tell just by reading a research paper.

2. What are your areas of interest in research?

My specific research interests are the physiological adaptations that occur in astronauts in spaceflight. At Texas A&M University, I am involved in a graduate program catered to that and have received a fellowship by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute that promotes funded graduate students to pursue their dissertation topic in a space biomedical area. My dissertation will focus on the effects of radiation (both clinical and space-relevant) on the lymphatics, but I am also interested in the ties between the immune and lymphatic systems and the roles they have to play in various systemic inflammatory pathologies. Coincidentally, astronauts may experience cases of lymphedema and immune dysfunction in response to being weightless and exposed to background radiation for long periods of time, and I hope to translate my interests in this field towards general lymphatic disorders.

3. What are your hopes and plans for your career and your research?

It was again beneficial to attend the NIH conference for my career plans as I was able to interact with members of the community that I will be working with in the future as a lymphatic physiologist. I wish to continue on the path towards a post-doctoral position after completing my graduate studies, hoping to tie my interests in space biomedicine and radiation as well as integrate my engineering background to a project in the field of non/minimally invasive medical devices that would address limitations in lymphedema/lymphatic dysfunction assessment.

4. Why do you believe that, in general, lymphatic research is important? What might the field accomplish within the next few years?

Lymphatics compared to other physiological systems are considerably understudied, as we are still making very unique discoveries about them (i.e. lymphatics associated with the brain just a few months ago). There is also an emerging appreciation in the immunology field and various organ system pathologies (metabolic syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, atherosclerosis, cancer and metastasis, etc.) about the role of the lymphatics in the pathogenesis and associated on-going chronic problems. The technical tools to allow for more sophisticated analysis (increased number of markers, better imaging devices/microscopes, etc.) have increased our capabilities to analyze the lymphatics system as it is. But I believe with even better/holistic tools and investigators associating novel links and integrating between multiple physiological systems (a critical role the lymphatics plays in both circulatory and immunological considerations), our general understanding of the lymphatics will become even more profound and will generate paradigm shifting principles in the context of biomedical questions and problems.