Trainee Spotlight: Meganathan Poorlin Ramakodi,PhD


    Meganathan Poorlin Ramakodi, PhD
    Postdoctoral Associate
    Dr. Camille Ragin’s lab
    Fox Chase Cancer Center



    Growing up in my home town of Kanchipuram, nestled in the southeast of India near the Bay of Bengal, I was fascinated at an early age by the many migratory birds that pass through the region.  My early interests in nature were piqued in school after learning about evolution and the phenomenal works of Charles Darwin; in fact, they led me to embrace a career in the life sciences. I received a master’s degree in microbiology from Bharathidasan University, India and later attained a Ph.D. from Jadavpur University, India. During my doctoral research with Dr. Ikramul Haque in DNA forensics, I expanded on my interests in evolutionary biology by studying the genetic relationships among crocodile species.  After completing my Ph.D, I joined Dr. David Ray’s lab at Mississippi State University where I used genomic analyses and computational programming to study crocodilian genomes. When looking for opportunities to apply my computational biology/bioinformatics skills to health sciences research, I became interested in a cancer genomics project in Dr. Camille Ragin’s lab at Fox Chase Cancer Center (FCCC).  Her work focused on understanding why African-American patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer had poorer therapeutic outcomes as compared to other ethnic groups. Since joining her lab in 2013, my goal is to identify genomic factors to serve as diagnostic biomarkers of those cancers adversely affecting African-Americans. To this end, I am using an integrative approach with population genetics, genomics, and computational biology to understand the genomics factors associated with racial disparity in cancer.

    Research Overview

    Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC) is sixth most common cancer worldwide.  However, African-Americans have a higher risk of HNSCC as compared to other races. We hypothesize that the racial disparity may be attributed to genetic factors in addition to other non-biological entities. Although the mutational landscape of HNSCC has been studied, the effect of race on the mutational landscapes of HNSCC is unknown. Recently, we analyzed the mutational landscapes of laryngeal cancer, a type of HNSCC that is significantly more prevalent in African Americans, as well as the effect of ethnicity on the mutational load. We found that the mutational landscapes of laryngeal cancer vary significantly between African-American and European-American patients. In particular, PIK3CA, a gene implicated in HNSCC, was mutated in significantly higher proportion in Americans with European ancestry as compared to African-Americans. Thus, our analyses have shown that at a molecular level, laryngeal cancer differs between African-American and European-American patients. As an extension of our study, I am currently analyzing the relationship between genetics and survival disparity in HNSCC. The analyses have shown promising results indicating the effect of ancestry-related genetics factors on survival disparity.

    Featured Publication

    Meganathan P. Ramakodi, Rob J. Kulathinal, Yujin Chung, Ilya Serebriiskii, Jeffrey C. Liu, Camille C. Ragin. Ancestral-derived effects on the mutational landscape of laryngeal cancer. Genomics, 2016, Volume 107, Issues 2–3, Pages 76–82