RUNC: Nivi Ramasamy

Nivi Ramasamy unravels the link between obesity and cancer.

Nivi Ramasamyphoto by Alyssa LaFaro
May 3rd, 2023

Nivi Ramasamy is a senior double-majoring in neuroscience and nutrition within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences and the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her studies are twofold: she researches the neural networks implicated in psychiatric disorders and the relationship between obesity and colon cancer.

Q: How did you discover your specific field of study?

A: The summer before my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to conduct research on the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome in the brain. I took part in every step of the project. This experience fostered my desire to discover the answers to unsolved questions and uniquely combined the fields of neuroscience and nutrition, leading me to major and explore research in both disciplines after arriving at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Q: Academics are problem-solvers. Describe a research challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it.

A: For my honors thesis, I am investigating how IL-6 and leptin — secreted factors produced by cells that store energy and fat — influence the JAK-STAT signaling pathway to promote colon cancer growth. My first attempt at treating colon cancer cells with leptin did not work, which kicked off months of troubleshooting.

Over the course of the following semester, I conducted experiments to investigate whether the leptin receptor was present in colon cancer cells, to identify the optimal leptin concentration and treatment time, and to determine whether the species of my recombinant leptin (human versus mouse) made a difference. This systematic approach eventually allowed me to discover the optimal treatment conditions for colon cancer cells.

Q: Describe your research in five words.

A: Unraveling the obesity-cancer mystery.

Q: Who or what inspires you? Why?

A: My great-grandmother is one of my biggest inspirations. She challenged the cultural and societal expectations of a traditional Indian woman’s role during her time and is one of the strongest, kindest, and most hard-working women I know. Her resilience inspires me to push myself out of my comfort zone and to always stay true to myself and my aspirations.

Q: If you could pursue any other career, what would it be and why?

A: A religious studies researcher. I’m fascinated by how religion shapes individual identities, different cultures, and society. One of my favorite courses during my time at Carolina was a seminar called “Reintroducing Islam,” where we examined multiple aspects of Islam through a feminist lens. After my experience in that course, I would be particularly interested in researching gender roles in Muslim societies.

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