Udeshika Lakmini Kariyawasam

Researcher, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

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Work hard, be committed and focus on chasing your goals.

What do you do?

I am a researcher with a PhD in Medical Parasitology. My PhD research was focused on leishmaniasis, specifically on L. donovani, which is the prevalent species in Sri Lanka. The findings of my research have led to the detailed phenotypic and genetic characterization of L. donovani in Sri Lanka, shedding more light on the pathogenesis of the disease that would help in effective patient management. My long-standing interest has been in parasitology and host-parasite interactions that affect host cell signaling pathways.
My current study is focused on insect immunity, especially determining the role of M. sexta peptidoglycan recognition proteins and their relationship with the melanization through prophenoloxidase system activation, and elaboration of their specificity towards different bacteria.

Why did you choose this field?

Leishmaniasis is considered as a newly established disease in Sri Lanka. Research studies in this field are considered to be of immense importance, both due to its huge impact on community health and the scarcity of scientific information based on good quality projects. My long-standing interest has been in parasitology and host-parasite interactions that affect host cell signaling pathways. Since my PhD is in Medical parasitology, in order to extend the paradigm of future parasitological research, a strong biochemistry background is a must. Therefore, I am currently conducting research on insect immunity at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Oklahoma State University.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

Becoming a Medical Parasitologist come Biochemist at a leading University in USA.
Even though my child hood dream has always been to become a scientist, it never crossed my mind that I would become who I am today. Completing my baccalaureate studies in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry was the stepping stone to my successful academic carrier and I can never forget the immense support I received from my family in this regard. I gave birth to my daughter a few months before my Ph.D. defense and flew to USA to when she was only 6months old, to join my husband. From that point onwards my beloved husband has always been my pillar of success, splitting the burden of house hold chores and providing me with essential emotional support, while reading for his own Ph.D, thus encouraging me to continue my academic carrier.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I was always passionate about research. I strongly believe that STEM field can make a lasting impact on the world. In fact, the power to make a difference in the lives of others is one of the major reasons why I choose STEM. As an example, the work of Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier invent CRISPR, a system used to edit gene sequences, which has already had huge impacts on research and medicine, and could potentially lead to gene therapies for genetic diseases. I enjoy spending time on solving problems, analyze data, come to a conclusion and ultimately develop a scientific solution to a real-life problem. And also, working in STEM is just the ticket to explore the world literally, network with other scientists and share valuable knowledge.

Best advice for next generation?

Work hard, be committed and focus on chasing your goals. These are the reasons behind me being where I am today. Especially, if you want to migrate for your higher studies and make & build a family while you are at it, you would have to split time between house hold chores or baby duties (or both) and work/study. But you should not be overwhelmed or intimidated by these. Hold your aspirations high, and you will find a way, and more often than not, things will fall into place. You may have to do research in areas you don’t have much previous experience in, but it’s all part and parcel of working in STEM, challenges are routine. But there’s no challenge that cannot be overcome by the strong will of woman with a goal. When there’s a will there is always a way!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.
- Robert A. Heinlein

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