Akanksha Singh-Taylor, Senior Scientist
Akanksha Singh-Taylor joined Micronoma in September 2021 as a senior scientist on our wet lab side. Originally from Delhi, India, Akanksha moved to Houston when she was 10. During her work with children and adults with severe intellectual disabilities, she developed an appreciation for science and research into the mechanisms underlying neurological and other diseases. This led her to pursue a Ph.D., studying molecular mechanisms underlying pediatric neural cancers, and eventually to Micronoma here in San Diego.
Akanksha spoke with us to provide some insight into her work at Micronoma.
What do you do for Micronoma?
My days are spent planning and doing experiments, optimizing assays, and analyzing data. I also spend a considerable amount of time engaged in scientific reading to see if we can identify novel approaches that help better inform our assay development, potentially leading to improved diagnostics.
What was the driving force that pushed you into the sciences?
From the time I was a teenager, I volunteered with children with Down Syndrome and various psychiatric conditions, and was privy to the severe behavioral issues and profound intellectual disability that these children suffered. While in college, I worked extensively with people with autism and autism spectrum disorders. I found the work very rewarding and grew more curious about the neurological aspect of these diseases and its impact on the developing brain. It was late in my college career that I worked in an addiction laboratory trying to examine the neural underpinnings of craving, and that is when I realized how much I enjoyed trying to understand the how and the why of neurological conditions and other disease states. This is really when I started focusing on research as a potential career choice.
My husband and I are the only scientists in my immediate family.
Who inspired you along the way?
My grandma (“Amma”) has always been an inspiration to me. She did not have much of an education, as she was only allowed to study until 4th grade and got married young. But even at 60 years of age, she would still try to learn and write in English. She deeply valued education and saw it as a path towards independence and meaningful work.
Tell us about your education and previous work.
I earned a B.A. in Biology and Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, and then a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, studying the molecular underpinnings of pediatric neural cancers at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
During my Ph.D, I focused on understanding the epigenetic mechanisms underlying medulloblastoma and neuroblastoma and their contribution to resistance to chemotherapy. I did my postdoctoral work at University of California-Irvine, where I gravitated towards more traditional neuroscience, studying how our neural networks change as a function of early life stress and epilepsy, affecting cognitive and emotional outcomes later in life. Using ChIP-Seq and RNA-Seq, we did detailed mechanistic analyses in very specific nuclei in the brain to uncover the epigenetic underpinnings of dysregulation following early life stress, with the goal of intervening on a therapeutic level.
After completing my postdoctoral training, I started working at Active Motif, a company that focuses on developing epigenetics-based technologies. I was there for 5 years, with the last few years as an applications scientist, developing workflows to adapt their existing technologies to perform with various clinical samples, including liquid biopsies. I also did assay development and launched products. During my time there, I got the opportunity to work with Eddie Adams who joined as the VP of R&D. He is now the CSO here at Micronoma, and I’m excited to work with him once again.
What attracted you to Micronoma?
The science at Micronoma is super interesting and very novel. I have a very different scientific background than the rest of the team, which has allowed me an amazing learning opportunity. I am excited to bring my background in disease research, epigenetics, and liquid biopsy to Micronoma and to see how I can adapt my existing skill set to help advance the science.
Has cancer impacted you personally?
In India we lived as a joint family with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all in the same house. My aunt was diagnosed with colon cancer in her 30s, and she died from it when I was six. As a young Indian woman with no recorded family history, she was not screened. This was happening in our home, and watching my cousins lose their mother was difficult. Later, two more of her sisters would succumb to cancer, pointing to previously undiscovered family history.
What makes you passionate about Micronoma?
Our focus on early cancer detection. The data collected so far looks really promising, especially as compared to current options available to clinicians. Micronoma’s approach is unique and relatively unexplored in cancer and other diseases. Its potential could be huge. When it comes to lung cancer, our data look really strong, not only when comparing lung cancer patient plasma samples to healthy patient samples, but to other benign lung diseases.
What are you excited about in Micronoma’s future?
We are a cancer focused company, and Micronoma’s technology is very powerful in detecting lung cancer and other cancers. However, I can also see the potential of leveraging our tools in other diseases, such as dementia, where we may also be able to affect patient outcomes.
What does success look like for you?
Expanding our current assay to other cancers, and developing new approaches. Our specificity and sensitivity are already very good. Anything that impacts patient care that we can bring to market quickly looks like success to me.
Any hidden talents or hobbies?
I am a trained classical dancer, dancing at a professional/semi-professional level. I started training in Kathak, a North Indian classical art form, at 7 years of age. I started in India, then was lucky enough to continue in Houston, then Orange County. There are many parallels between my training as a dancer and my training as a scientist. Kathak requires a long training period during which gains are slow to come by. One has to be meticulous, rigorous, and willing to learn in order to get anywhere. I carry these lessons and these values everyday to my work as a scientist.