Ram Annamalai, Ph.D., joined the F. Joseph Halcomb III, M.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering this fall as assistant professor. Prior to joining UK, He was a research scientist in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan. To get to know Dr. Annamalai better, we present you a short interview with him on his research interests and his life’s mission.
We are so glad to have you join the F. Joseph Halcomb III, M.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Kentucky this fall. To help colleagues and students to learn more about you and your research, can you tell us something about yourself, your research interest and expertise?
My research is broadly focused on tissue regeneration and vascularization using biomaterials and biofabrication strategies. Understanding the roles of the immune system in neotissue formation and applying this for musculoskeletal and vascular regeneration is of particular interest. My research interests span both basic and translational research areas. Specific areas of our research include:
1) Developing injectable biomaterial systems and other biofabrication strategies
2) Elucidating the role of immune cells in neotissue formation
3) Developing immunomodulatory strategies for guiding tissue regeneration
4) Developing bioresponsive drug-delivery vehicles
My unique interdisciplinary training and education help me develop innovative approaches for engineering artificial tissues and regenerative therapies.
Would you give some brief highlights of the most exciting part of your research work? What impact would you like to make in terms of helping people and improving the quality of life?
I maintain a strong commitment to academic teaching and research, in part because it is a rewarding experience for me and in part because I believe that science education is a social reform tool in promoting a progressive and integrated society. Through our tissue engineering and regenerative medicine research, we aim to treat various ailments, including organ failures, age-related pathologies and trauma-related injuries.
Looking ahead, what challenges do you see in realizing the impact you would like to make through your innovative research?
The past several decades have seen tremendous success and breakthroughs in medicine and healthcare. The biomedical research enterprise in the U.S. has been the envy of the world and attracts scientists from all over the globe. But the decline in the public awareness of science and technology and the unpredictability of research funding could delay scientific breakthroughs. Shifting immigration policies and the decline in the new student enrollments in graduate programs are some of the challenges faced by the research community. The recent developments in the UK Department of Biomedical Engineering and research investments by the university are likely to accelerate the growth and the impact of our research.
As you are aware, UK has a unique academic infrastructure in terms of promoting biomedical research and healthcare treatment technologies. How would you like to contribute to promote in-depth engineering-medicine integration at UK?
Translational research is multidisciplinary, and partnerships with clinicians are necessary to incorporate the clinical perspective. My research is unique and complementary to the musculoskeletal and vascular regeneration research at the UK, and well-positioned to foster synergistic activities within the College of Engineering and other health sciences colleges, including Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry. I am keen on working with researchers in biology, orthopedics and dentistry at UK to enact a three-way collaboration between engineering, medicine and biology that enables me to address the overarching problems in regenerative medicine.
How would you like to help students who are interested in biomedical engineering advance their learning and their career?
As biomedical engineering transitions into the next decade, there is tremendous interest among high school and undergraduate students. The next decade is going to be crucial for delivering a balanced curriculum for aspiring students. This is an opportunity to bring together the best and brightest minds from diverse backgrounds with diverse thoughts and perspectives to solve our healthcare needs. I believe an open-minded, compassionate and respectful mentorship can provide a compelling education that prepares students to lead and serve in a global society. Open exchange of ideas, experiences and values are necessary for excellence in education. To that end, I will provide a stimulating and collaborative learning atmosphere both in my lab and in my classroom to foster creativity, innovation and a strong sense of community.
Is there any advice you would give to students or postdocs that you wish someone had given you when you were a student or postdoc?
Improve your academic writing skills. Dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to writing your papers, reviews thesis or other scholarly publications. It’s like any other skill – practice makes perfect. Use editing and proofreading tools such as ‘Grammarly’ to improve your writing. Collaborate with fellow students and scholars to form writing accountability groups. Learn how to write a proper grant application and use every opportunity to apply for your funding.
Choose your graduate advisor wisely. Make sure your advisor is also a good mentor who is willing to put in the work to guide you in your endeavors. They may have published several highly cited papers in prestigious journals and won awards for their research, but if they don’t have time to nourish your skills, you may as well read their articles and pick another advisor.
You might have come across the phrase “publish or perish.” Although publication is a fact of life, the quality and value of your work are more important. If you are seeking an academic career, find your unique research niche, and work on shaping your independent research program.
What do you like to do outside your work? Any hobbies or leisure interests?
I like running, skiing, and hiking. I love to watch a good movie or a TV show. Suspense thrillers, arthouse movies, and dark comedies are my thing. I dream of making an artistic and creative film one day!