Written March 26, 2021

Ayantika Sen, PhD

Mentor: Dr. Sheri Krams

“I didn’t think I would get accepted into a lab at Stanford, but my PhD mentor encouraged me to apply,” said Ayantika Sen, PhD. “It’s a very farfetched dream coming true.”

Originally from India, Sen came to Sheri Krams’ Lab in the Division of Abdominal Transplantation via Oklahoma State University. After earning her PhD in immunology there, she came to the Bay Area to join her husband, who works in Santa Clara.

“I realized that the Bay Area was a place where I could get a good exposure to the academic as well as industry workforce, since so many of the universities are collaborating with biotech companies,” said Sen.

Sen has authored multiple papers on the role of estrogen and estrogen receptors in regulating UTI disease severity in post-menopausal women, so transplant was a whole new world, but she found many of her technical skills and immunology knowledge transferred easily to her new work. Sen’s first project is looking at the role of micro-RNAs(miRNAs) in predicting susceptibility to post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD) in pediatric transplant patients. PTLD is a type of cancer affecting white blood cells, commonly seen in transplant patients.

“miRNAs are very small strands of RNA that have a multitude of functions in the body. Studies from other labs have reported that changes in certain miRNA levels are associated with various types of cancers,” said Sen.

Because of the immunosuppression therapy, transplant recipients—particularly children—have trouble fighting off Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV can trigger the expressions of certain cancer-causing human miRNAs that can lead to the development of PTLD.

Sen is also working on a new project looking at immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection in children. Although the pandemic-causing virus primarily targets adults, a small percentage of children develop Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) following COVID-19 infection.

“There is a burst of immune responses that cause inflammation, and that can damage organs and eventually cause them to shut down,” said Sen. “We want to understand why some children are susceptible to MIS-C while others are not.” Although it’s only in the planning stages, Sen says she’s excited to contribute to the research on COVID-19.

Five months in, Sen says she’s making use of all the resources Stanford provides to post-docs to help them determine what type of career they eventually want to pursue.

“I definitely love research, but I’m not much into teaching — that’s the only reason I don’t want to be faculty,” said Sen. “At this point I’m more inclined to end up in industry or a research institute. Maybe I could one day have my own lab at a company.”