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#TraineeTuesday: Risha Chakraborty

May 23, 2023
by Kayla Yup

From the Lab to the Limelight - Blog version of our #TraineeTuesday Twitter series

From the Lab to the Limelight - Blog version of our #TraineeTuesdayTwitter series

Today’s #TraineeTuesday star is Risha Chakraborty, an undergraduate researcher in the Chandra Lab! She recently won the Y-Work Award for Outstanding Student Employees for her research on Parkinson’s Disease (PD).

While Parkinson’s is primarily considered a movement disorder, her focus is on an “understudied facet” of the disease: cognitive decline. She studies the GBA gene, which is commonly mutated in PD patients with cognitive impairment. Through analyzing behavioral data and post-mortem brain tissue, Risha is working to understand disease processes such as synaptic dysregulation and neuronal loss.

“While we are studying cognitive decline in Parkinson’s Disease, the knowledge we gain about the processes contributing to cognitive decline are possible targets for research in other diseases as well,” Risha said. “Studying fundamental neural biology to inform our understanding of common disease processes makes our work meaningful beyond just one patient population.”

Risha’s interest in neuroscience began in high school, when she participated in the Brain Bee, a neuroscience competition for teenagers. Neurodegeneration was particularly compelling, “because it is so ubiquitous in our society,” she said. During the college application process, she prioritized schools that had a good neuroscience program and neurodegeneration research. Risha even wrote about the Chandra Lab in her application to Yale College. As soon as she matriculated in the Fall of 2021, she cold-emailed Sreeganga Chandra, PhD, in hopes of joining.

Since then, research has become her biggest time commitment and her most informative experience.

What’s really interesting about Yale’s neuroscience labs, which is really exemplified in [the] Chandra lab, is the emphasis on understanding basic facets of neural processes and then applying them to disease processes.

Risha Chakraborty

Coming to Yale with mostly virtual research experiences, she had not even considered research as a career. Now, she can’t imagine a career in which research doesn’t play a role. “I love the ability to plan experiments to solve questions of my own interest, I love being able to understand a topic at such depth, and I simply love the pursuit of new knowledge,” Risha said.

At Yale, she studies neuroscience and chemistry, with the goal of gaining both a systems neuroscience and molecular understanding of synaptic biology. After college, Risha will apply to MD/PhD programs to pursue her dream of becoming a physician-neuroscientist. She hopes to continue studying synapse biology and neurotransmission in the nigrostriatal pathway, either in her PhD years or eventually as a PI.

This YWord award is affirmation that she’s on the right track.

Her mentor, postdoc Vidyadhara DJ, PhD, nominated her for the honor with the following statement: “[Risha] is definitely the best I have ever seen. She has done her work with utmost reliability and professionalism and what she has accomplished is the equivalent to a full-time postbac or grad student in the lab.”

Submitted by Pauline Charbogne on January 30, 2024