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Meet Dr. Priya Pantham

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Priya Pantham.  

Hi Dr. Pantham, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I grew up in South India in Madras (Chennai), the fourth largest city in India, as part of a large joint family household. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a doctor, but not a Medical Doctor, like my Mum is. My parents migrated to New Zealand when I was 17, and I completed my tertiary education including my Ph.D. in Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Auckland. My singular driving force to conduct research has always been a deep passion for Women’s Health. I believe that there is so much we don’t know about what goes wrong during pregnancy, and so little we know about how to correct disorders of pregnancy. I want to help fix this and build a better world for women and their babies. 

After completing my Doctoral degree, I migrated to the United States to undertake postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, TX, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver, CO, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Campaign, IL (2014-2019). Following this, I was awarded a training grant by the National Institutes of Health and moved to San Diego, CA in 2019 to conduct my research at the University of California San Diego. I transitioned to an Assistant Professor role in 2021 in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, and am currently in the process of building my laboratory. 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Academia is certainly not a smooth path. It requires patience and perseverance every step of the way, a deep belief in oneself and one’s capabilities in the face of constant rejection, and a passion for the specific field of research. If you don’t love what you do, there’s no way you will survive in academia. Being a self-starter and self-motivation is an absolute requirement. Success in academia is dependent on having excellent mentorship, and I would not be here today if I did not currently have supportive mentors. 

One challenge I faced was having to move around a lot for work, in order to go where the best research opportunities came up. The first five years of my marriage were long distance. I lived in four different states in a five-year span. It’s definitely not for everyone. It took hard work and commitment, as well as effort to adapt to each new city and state. My husband is a Producer working in film, and we completely support each other in our career goals and ambitions. Our dog, Beatrix Kiddo (the best rescue dog in the world) keeps us both sane. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
My research is on the placenta, a transient organ belonging to the fetus, that connects the mother and fetus and provides a conduit for the exchange of nutrients, gases, and wastes. A healthy placenta means a healthy baby. My research spans looking into placental causes of preeclampsia (a disorder of hypertension during pregnancy, which could lead to maternal death), preterm birth (babies born prematurely go on to develop problems in later life), and the effect of maternal under- or over-nutrition on placental and fetal development. Currently, I am trying to understand how the placenta may interact with the kidney to cause kidney damage in preeclamptic mothers. 

My greatest source of pride is the students I have been able to mentor. Shaping the next generation of young minds, especially providing mentorship to students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and encouraging their spark of curiosity in scientific research, gives me great joy. I aim to continue this as I build my lab and expand my research program. 

In terms of what sets me apart from others, this is encapsulated in my favorite quote by Maya Angelou, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 

We love surprises, fun facts, and unexpected stories. Is there something you can share that might surprise us?
I am currently learning how to sail with a yacht crew that races competitively around San Diego Bay, called Maleficent, skippered by Chris Bennett. This is a passion I discovered only last year, and it has totally changed my outlook on life. There is nothing I love more than being out on the water. Experiencing the best parts of San Diego in this way is something else, as we are blessed with perfect weather almost all year round. I especially appreciate this having experienced 5 Midwest winters. 

I also have a passion for all things fashion, particularly the French fashion house Balmain. 

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Image Credits

Siobhan Gazur photography

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