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Akshay Alaghatta, MD/PhD student

“Thinking about the amount of support that I felt from the faculty and the other students when I visited, I actually remember getting pretty emotional and thinking this was the place I was going to end up coming.”

Former college track star turned UMass Chan Medical School student Akshay Alaghatta is researching the body's first line of defense as he works in a lab alongside a practicing clinician.

Originally from San Jose, California, the MD/PhD student majored in neuroscience and minored in space science and technology at Johns Hopkins University. He worked as a research technician and clinical assistant in the Department of Neurology at Duke University after graduation.
“Seeing the work that they do really inspired me,” Alaghatta said. “Many diseases in the fields that I’m interested in—neurology and psychiatry—lack effective treatments. I really wanted to contribute to the research and try to further our understanding of these diseases.”

A sense of belonging and community brought Alaghatta to UMass Chan for his MD/PhD. Working in the lab of Read Pukkila-Worley, MD, associate professor of medicine, Alaghatta is researching innate immunity, specifically the activation of the immune response in response to pathogen infection. Innate immunity is the body's first line of defense, and it works by recognizing pathogens through pattern recognition receptors and activating the body's inflammatory pathways that promote bacterial clearance. By studying the activation of the immune response, scientists are better able to optimize it. This could mean suppressing innate immunity in chronic diseases such as Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, where the immune system attacks the body. This could also mean enhancing it in those who have weakened immune systems.

Alaghatta hopes that patient care and interaction—in conjunction with research—will be at the forefront of his career. Because Dr. Pukkila-Workley is a practicing clinician, being in his lab gives Alaghatta the opportunity to gain experience working with patients during his research years.

I'd like to see patients, and I'd also like to conduct research to further our understanding of why these diseases occur so we can develop more effective treatments," Alaghatta said.

During the summers, Alaghatta enjoys coaching middle schoolers at a running clinic. During his time at Johns Hopkins University, he was on the track and field team and a three-time Centennial Academic Honor Roll recipient.