Graduate student receives prestigious award

Several College of Science graduate students have recently been recognized for their hard work and research in and out of the laboratory.

Shailaja Kunda

Shailaja Kunda

Fourth year graduate student Shailaja Kunda was awarded the Faculty for the Future Award. Faculty for the Future fellowships are given to women from developing and emerging countries who are preparing for Ph.D. or post-doctoral studies in the physical sciences at top universities abroad. The goal of the program is to encourage more women to pursue scientific careers. Recipients of the fellowships are selected for their leadership capabilities and scientific talents, and are expected to return to their home countries to continue their careers and inspire other young women to pursue science. This is Kunda’s second year winning the award.

Kunda currently works with Francis Castellino, Kleiderer-Pezold Professor of Biochemistry, in the W.M. Keck Center for Transgene Research. Her project focuses on conantokins: peptides synthesized by marine snails and rich in post-translationally modified γ-carboxy glutamate (Gla, γ) residues. These peptides are found to have antagonistic properties towards N-Methyl-D-Aspartate receptors (NMDAR). Influx of calcium ions into neurons through these receptors result in learning, memory and plasticity. In certain neuropathologies such as Huntington's disease and epileptogenesis, persistent activation of NMDAR leads to excitotoxicity. The subunit specific inhibitory properties of conantokins can be employed as neuro-active drugs. Kunda is currently studying the structural and inhibitory properties of recently discovered conantokins from Conus parius and Asprella clade species of marine snails using biophysical and cell based functional assays. 



Originally published by Stephanie Healey at on May 13, 2013.