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Meet the UAE researcher selected as a finalist for AstraZeneca’s challenge

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Dr Ramakrishnan holds a Bachelor of Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering from the University of Kerala in India

UAE-based Indian researcher, Dr Rakhee K. Ramakrishnan, was among the six finalists for the AstraZeneca’s R&D Postdoctoral Challenge.

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AstraZeneca recently announced its decision to fund the finalists from its R&D Postdoctoral Challenge with research positions at one of its global R&D centres.

Dr Ramakrishnan, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Research Institute for Medical and Health Sciences, University of Sharjah, had presented a proposal that focused on microbiome-based therapeutics for asthma.

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“It is a wonderful and proud moment to be selected among such an esteemed peer group of researchers,” she told Khaleej Times.

“Initiatives such as these are incredible for early career researchers as it bridges the gap between academia and industry, giving us the opportunity to challenge ourselves and bring forward new and innovative research ideas. More importantly, it helps us potentially transform the way certain overlooked diseases are treated and translate these ideas into improved outcomes for patients.”

She explains that her research interest centres around the role of mitochondria – known as the ‘powerhouse of the cell’ – and how its dysfunction can lead to a diseased state such as asthma.

“Lately, there has been a lot of interest in microbiome research. I am particularly interested in the airway microbiome and how it is increasingly associated with overall lung health,” said Dr. Ramakrishnan.

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“Developing a comprehensive understanding of the metabolic interaction between the airway microbiome and host in asthma, could take us a step closer to potentially unlocking a new way to treat asthma patients.

“I am excited to have the opportunity to work with AstraZeneca’s R&D expertise in the area and dive deeper into this hypothesis.”

Dr. Ramakrishnan holds a Bachelor of Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering from the University of Kerala in India. Attaining the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences Indian Scholarship, she pursued her Master of Biotechnology (Advanced) from the University of Queensland in Australia.

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Speaking about the challenges they faced as researchers, Ramakrishnan said they are sometimes limited by our access to the latest technology and resources to help them achieve tangible outcomes from research (i.e. therapeutics).

“Asthma is a particularly complex and sometimes overlooked disease that has interested me for a while, which is why I appreciate the platform that the AstraZeneca R&D Postdoctoral Challenge has provided me,” she said.

AstraZeneca agreed to fund all six finalists from the R&D Postdoctoral Challenge with research positions for two years at one of the Company’s strategic R&D centres in Cambridge, UK, Gaithersburg, US or Gothenburg, Sweden.

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Unlike traditional pre-defined industry postdoctoral initiatives, the challenge which launched in March 2022, encouraged early career scientists to submit their own research proposals to accelerate drug discovery for some of the world’s most complex diseases.

From more than 120 proposals, six winners were selected by a judging panel of AstraZeneca and external life science leaders, based on scientific merit and potential to create a real impact for patients, society and healthcare systems.

During her Masters, Dr. Ramakrishnan was awarded the John Kapeleris Medal for Biotechnology (2014) for exemplary academic performance. She completed her PhD in Molecular Medicine and Translational Research at the University of Sharjah in UAE, with a dual PhD degree from the University of Lübeck in Germany (2020).

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She has more than 25 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has presented research posters at multiple national and international conferences.

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