Nikita Deshpande with co-worker in a hazmat suit

Alumni Spotlight: Nikita Deshpande helps combat SARS CoV-2 in Australia

When Nikita Deshpande defended her Ph.D. dissertation in 2018, she was considering careers in industry or academia – but she was not thinking about working for a large NGO. During her Ph.D., Nikita gained molecular and genetic skills by studying chromatin in the Meller lab. But, crucially, she also developed leadership and organizational skills through service in the department and in the Graduate Teaching Assistant's Union, where she served as a committee chair and president.

In August of 2018, Nikita and her husband immigrated to Australia where his company had a facility. Nikita soon found an opportunity to apply her research and organizational skills in a multi-investigator group based at the University of Queensland but with partners in Melbourne, where she lives. Nikita coordinated the generation of large mRNA and chromatin data sets from 40 mouse cell types at different life stages.

This massive molecular data set will comprise an atlas that researchers can use to identify changes in transcription factors as animals age. She also participated in a study of mouse hematopoietic and intestinal stem cells with researchers at CISRO, the Australian equivalent of NIH. Nikita is now an expert on culturing intestinal organoids and using lentiviral vectors!

In October 2020, Nikita accepted a position as a medical scientist at the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Peter Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne. She is part of an antiviral research team that, like many groups studying infectious disease, pivoted to study SARS CoV-2. Nikita is now testing antiviral compounds and adjuvants – and spends a lot of time in protective gear.

She is fine with that since it is much more comfortable than wearing a mask all day. In the future, Nikita hopes to integrate her skills and interests to study the impact of aging on the immune response, something that has been brought into sharp focus by the COVID-19 pandemic. Wayne State is proud of Nikita’s accomplishments and excited to see how she used her experiences to move into a research career.

Photo: Dr. Nikita Deshpande (left) dressed for work with her supervisor, Dr. Mariana Baz, at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Influenza Research at the Peter Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne.