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Early Passion for Science, Medicine Puts UK Grad on Fast Track to Medical School

By Whitney Hale

(May 7, 2015) — Two seems to be a lucky number for graduating senior Sibi Rajendran, of Frankfort, Kentucky.

Two years ago, Rajendran, the son of Narayanan and Preetha Rajendran, graduated from two high schools simultaneously in two different Kentucky communities. He finished his secondary studies at Franklin County High School, in Frankfort, and the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science, in Bowling Green, in May of 2013.

On May 9, with the benefit of college studies completed at the Gatton Academy, Rajendran is finishing up his major in biology and minor in neuroscience in two years at UK at only 18 years old. He will head to UK College of Medicine this fall.

While doing his junior and senior years at Gatton Academy located at Western Kentucky University, Rajendran took college level classes in math and science, where the goal of course assignments was searching for answers to some of life's toughest questions, from alternative fuel sources to a cure for cancer. Rajendran and many of his fellow high schoolers finished their secondary education with more than 60 hours of college credit.

It was the environment and the resulting opportunities of a bustling research institution with a medical facility that led Rajendran to UK next.

"The opportunities to immerse myself in research, volunteering and academics in areas relevant to my future plans of becoming a physician brought me here to UK. UK not only has a stellar undergraduate academic program in my area of interest, but opportunities to get involved in the hospital and medical campus that complete the perfect pre-medical curriculum for me."

Rajendran's quest to understand the living world around us and what makes us human led him to his choice of studies in biology and neuroscience. "Not only is this incredibly relevant to my future in medicine, but means I get to learn about the interactions that make us uniquely human. My studies in neuroscience stem from that deep fascination with what makes us human, as the neurobiology of the brain and nervous system are at the center of who we are."

Continuing his high school practice of working on real world problems related to health, Rajendran chose to participate in undergraduate research in neuroscience at UK with his mentor James Geddes, director of the UK College of Medicine Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center.

"Research allowed me to go beyond the classroom to spend more time studying a specific area that really interested me. For me, doing research has both confirmed and strengthened my passion for neuroscience and medicine," the senior said.

Rajendran's research involves a family of enzymes known as calpains. He worked with particular isoforms calpain 5 and 7, atypical calpains whose role in the nervous system are poorly understood. His projects explored the role these atypical calpains play in neurodegeneration, and has implications in traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, along with other neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition to his success in the lab, Rajendran is a Chellgren Fellow, as well as a member of the UK Honors Program and Phi Beta Kappa. Outside of the classroom, he volunteers at Albert B. Chandler Hospital, served as a peer mentor in the Honors Program and competed with the UK Quiz Bowl team.

Rajendran, who has received a $20,000 Charles T. Wethington Jr. Fellowship from the UK Graduate School for professional studies, looks forward to returning to his alma mater this fall to start medical school and is ready to see what the future holds for his passion in the complex biology of the human body.

"After all of my studies, I hope to begin a career in medicine as a physician. I am currently unsure of my future specialty, so my goal is to enter the field of medicine with an open mind."