It was no easy path but it seemed predestined that Preethi Ganapathy would choose the dual M.D./Ph.D. program at Georgia Regents University.
At the Hooding Ceremony today for the Medical College of Georgia, she will have the rare honor of receiving the hood from both her mother, an infectious-disease physician at GRU, and her father, a researcher and the chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
She practically grew up on the campus, playing around the laboratory of her father, Dr. Vadivel Ganapathy, or doing paperwork with the nurse of her mother, Dr. Malliga E. Ganapathy.
Dinner talk was always about science, proteins and patients, Preethi Ganapathy said.
“It is more an absorption,” she said. “I learned how to live a certain way or think a certain way not because they sat down and taught me to but that’s what I saw.”
The student spent her summers
in college working on ophthalmology research with Dr. Sylvia Smith, who also became an influence. When it came time to apply for the M.D./Ph.D. program, though, Ganapathy was not sure she knew exactly what she was getting into.
“When I started, I was like, ‘I like research and I like medicine. I’m going to do them both,’ ” she said. “Luckily, through the program I’ve developed and I’ve found that it’s an excellent fit for me.”
It might be crucial for her career, too, Vadivel Ganapathy said.
“In the current environment, it is good to have a clinical background and a penchant for research,” he said, particularly in light of dwindling funding at the National Institutes of Health. “I think she will have the advantage of both, being a clinician and having the research experience.
“I think that kind of mixture is the best type of thing in this environment to be successful, to get grants, to run a good research program.”
She chose to go into ophthalmology and do her research in that field, and she also tried to avoid straying into her father’s sphere.
“I wanted very much so to have absolutely no biochemistry in my dissertation,” Preethi Ganapathy said, laughing. “It’s nice to grow up in a very comfortable environment where you know everybody, you know the way things work.
“But it is very important to identify yourself and set up independence from these sorts of parental forces that are meant to guide you. You need to create your own path so you can succeed.”
Her research is focused on homocysteine, am amino acid known to be toxic to blood vessels, and the mechanisms by which it might cause nerve damage leading to glaucoma.
As she finishes explaining her work, her father adds quietly that his lab, too, is looking at homocysteine but in a different way.
“The elevation of homocysteine actually causes premature delivery in mice,” Vadivel Ganapathy said. “We just published a paper showing that if there is an elevation of homocysteine, it not only causes neuronal death, glaucoma, vascular problems (and others), but it also affects pregnancy.”
Preethi Ganapathy laughed about not being able to avoid bumping into her father’s research.
“No matter how much I try,” she said. “I just have to carve my own niche.”
That body of work is also something that she might be able to see for herself some day.
Earlier this week, the MCG students took part in an appreciation ceremony at which they handed out superlatives for members of the faculty.
“My father’s superlative was, ‘Most likely to publish a paper by the end of this sentence,’ ” she said. “And my mother’s was, ‘Most likely to go out of her way to do something for a patient.’
“If I can do 20 percent of what my parents do, I think I would do very well in life.”
Being able to share the moment on stage with both of her parents seems right, Preethi Ganapathy said.
“It’s fitting,” she said. “It’s fitting.”
“It’s also an honor for both of us,” her father said.