Tarun Nagarajan
Cancer Scholars Program

How did you get involved in the Cancer Scholars Program?

I have immediate family members who have been affected by cancer which helped fuel my interest in cancer research. As an incoming freshman, I had the opportunity to be a part of this program and integrate my education with cancer research. As part of this program, I have had the privilege of listening to scholars in the area of cancer research, build on my knowledge, and participate in research.

What does your research entail?

My research involves work in nanotechnology and biology in Dr. Andrew Smith’s lab. I have worked on projects involving quantum dots, which are nanoparticles that emit fluorescent light. These particles are resistant to degradation and are very stable, making them useful as tags for components inside a cell that can be seen by imaging. The projects that I have been working on include single-particle tracking by use of quantum dots as well as the quenching of quantum dots.

I have helped develop a protocol for matlab analysis that we use in the lab for single-particle tracking to better understand the physical state of these quantum dots as well as how they move throughout a cell after they have been delivered. This information can be used to improve nanoparticle therapeutics. I have also looked at the effect of quenching dyes and the effect they have on quenching quantum dots on the extracellular surface. The goal is to selectively look at quantum dots inside the cell while limiting the noise from the outside. 

How will this research impact cancer?

The application of these quantum dots is widespread but the main focus of this research is to help understand the workings of cancer. By using these quantum dots, which can tag specific proteins inside the cell and bright enough to be seen by imaging, the processes of cancer can be better detected and understood. 

How has the Cancer Scholars Program helped you?

The Cancer Scholars Program has connected me with mentors and provided me with a new understanding and knowledge of cancer related topics. I have been exposed to the innovative works of various professors on campus working in the area of cancer research, and this program has provided me with unique research opportunities. The network I have developed through this program will last beyond my college years.

What are your plans after graduation?

I plan to work in industry for a year before eventually attending medical school where I hope to become an orthopedic surgeon with a focus in sports medicine.

What are your personal interests or hobbies?

I am currently a student leader at Carle Hospital where I manage a floor of volunteers at the hospital to ensure that they provide high-quality support. As part of the iVenture Accelerator, I have been involved in multiple startups. I was previously part of the startup Vitrix Health which focused on developing medical screening solutions to detect oral cancer. I am currently part of the startup Nouvo which aims to create products for early detection of diseases in young children. I am also a huge sports fan who can always be seen rooting for all Illinois athletics.