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Graduate student’s cancer studies land NCI support

Nov. 17, 2016, 9:15 AM

Kamakoti “Kami” Bhat, a fifth-year graduate student in the lab of David Cortez, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry in the School of Medicine, has achieved a “first” for Vanderbilt University.

Kamakoti “Kami” Bhat
Kamakoti “Kami” Bhat

She is the first Vanderbilt graduate student to win an “F99/K00” predoctoral-to-postdoctoral fellow transition award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The grant program is designed to help outstanding graduate students achieve their dreams of becoming independent cancer researchers.

Bhat’s six-year, $400,000 grant, awarded this fall, will enable her to continue her research on molecular mechanisms of genome maintenance during DNA replication and repair through her graduation next fall and beyond.

In normal cells, a signaling network of proteins sense and repair DNA damage. In diseases such as cancer, many of these proteins are mutated, resulting in genomic instability. Understanding how these proteins work may shed light on new ways to prevent or reverse cancer.

“Kami is exceptionally creative and self-motivated,” said Cortez, who also is Ingram Professor of Cancer Research. “She is a lot of fun to have in the lab, and it is especially gratifying to see her rewarded for her hard work. “She has a great future as a scientist and is highly deserving of this award,” he said.

“I have always been very passionate about understanding the basic biology and mechanisms that underlie complex diseases, including cancer,” said Bhat, a native of Chennai, India.

“I have been extremely fortunate to have had wonderful colleagues and mentors, including Dave, who have always believed in me and who have advocated for me,” she said. “I am honored to have been awarded this grant.”

Bhat earned a bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology from AC tech, Anna University-Guindy campus in Chennai, graduating at the top of her class, and received two research fellowships as an undergraduate.

She was admitted to the Graduate School through the Vanderbilt International Scholar Program (VISP) in 2012, and has published two papers as a graduate student, one as first author in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the other in Molecular Cell.

Bhat plans to start looking for post-doctoral positions early next year.

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