Undergraduate Spotlight: Ananyaveena Anilkumar

Ananyaveena “Veena” Anilkumar is only in her third year but has already completed more research than many do in their entire college career. In fact, Anilkumar has been working in the same research group since her senior year in high school and assisted there before she was even eighteen, performing simple tasks like data analysis. Despite her extensive research career, Anilkumar’s immense growth is still evident as she performs her own funded research now.

Anilkumar’s passion for research was sparked in the summer of her junior year of high school, when she was selected as one of only twelve students to participate in a highly prestigious internship program at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory, the only hospital in Georgia that has a cancer research designation from the NCI (National Cancer Institute). While working closely with a radiation oncologist in the program, Anilkumar had her first exposure to research processes, and cancer research in particular, and started working almost independently.

Attending Wheeler Magnet high school in Marietta, Anilkumar was also required to do a senior capstone project and decided to work in the lab of Dr. Susan Thomas in the Parker H. Petit Institute of Bioengineering and Biosciences at Georgia Tech, which focuses on immunoengineering and cancer research. After coming to GT, Anilkumar continued in the Thomas lab, taking research for course credit the summer after freshman year and fall of her sophomore year, before applying and getting accepted into the 2015 Petit Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. As part of the program, Anilkumar has worked full time during the summer and an average of about twelve hours a week in the spring and fall semesters. The program also provides a mentor, and as such, Anilkumar has been working with graduate student Nathan Rohner, to whom she regularly reports her progress while he gives active feedback and advice. With her current mentorship, Anilkumar has learnt a lot, from how to make a collagen gel and perform cell culture to how to use a variety of lab equipment.

The project Anilkumar is currently working on is based on the concept of a “lab on a chip,” where a small-scale model of an organ is created and used for testing. Specifically, she is making a lymph node on a chip that can measure what kinds of effects that drug therapy and other cancer treatment techniques have on the lymph node. Unlike most Petit Scholars, who participate in an already existing large-scale project, Anilkumar practically started from scratch on her work and is funded by the Beckman Coulter Company. She determined what kind of device she wanted to build, drew out a device design, created a working model, and then ran experiments using that device.

In her free time, Anilkumar does Indian classical dance, which she been trained in since she was eight years old. As a result, she is very active in a dance academy that hosts many charity events. Meanwhile, at Tech, Anilkumar acts as the Vice President of BMES and involves herself in MDEA and many other organizations. Earlier in her college career, she was also a participant in the Grand Challenges program, in which the project her team worked on – advancing renewable energy education – actually saw itself to completion. Additionally, Anilkumar and her fellow teammates constructed their own electron kit and went to Woodward Academy to teach students about renewable energy, including a hands-on component that the students completed.

As evidenced by her plethora of achievements, Ananyaveena Anilkumar is a shining star in research, on the dancefloor, and in the wider Georgia Tech community. Moving forward, Anilumar has her goals set on medical school, where the Pioneer knows she will continue to do great things.

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