Dr. Medha Pathak is an Assistant Professor of Physiology & Biophysics at the University of California, Irvine. Research in her lab aims to uncover mechanotransduction events that shape cell behavior and fate in neural systems. Her group’s current research focuses on mechanisms by which the mechanically-activated ion channel Piezo1 drives neural stem cell fate. She was recently awarded the NIH New Innovator award and an R01 grant for her research.
Dr. Pathak grew up in India where she received her B.Sc. and M.Sc degrees in Biochemistry and Neuroscience, respectively. After her Masters, she moved to the US to pursue doctoral work with Dr. Ehud Isacoff at UC Berkeley in Biophysics. During her Ph.D., she used simultaneous electrophysiological and fluorescence measurements to determine how voltage activates an ion channel. As a Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellow she transitioned to studying mechanically-activated ion channels responsible for hearing and balance in Dr. David Corey’s lab at Harvard Medical School. After finding that allergies to furry laboratory animal models impaired her ability work in this field, she returned to working in cellular systems during a second postdoc with Dr. Francesco Tombola at UC Irvine. Here, her work on the mechanically-activated ion channel Piezo1 brought to light the channel’s role in determining neural stem cell fate. She started her own lab at UCI in 2016, which focuses on how Piezo1 shapes neural development and repair at a molecular, cellular, and organismal level.
Dr. Pathak is the recipient of several awards including a Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellowship and the NIH Director’s New Innovator award. Her mentoring efforts as a PI have been recognized through a UCI Chancellor’s award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring. Her work identifying mechanosensitivity of the voltage-gated proton channel, Hv1, was recognized as the outstanding paper of the year by the Journal of General Physiology. She is an active member of the Physiology and Mechanobiology research communities, serving as a member of the Early Careers Committee of the Biophysical Society and is a recent recruit to the Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of General Physiology. She recently chaired a multidisciplinary conference on Mechanobiology at UC Irvine.
The Pathak lab takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how mechanical forces shape neural events at the molecular, cellular and systems level. Focusing primarily on mechanotransduction through the ion channel Piezo1, the lab develops innovative imaging approaches to follow the channel’s activity in intact cells and tissues over time. Combined with molecular, genetic, and bioengineering techniques in cell culture, mouse models, and human stem cell-derived brain organoids, this approach provides new insights into how cells integrate mechanical information with genetic and chemical cues in development and repair. A recent preprint from the lab uncovered how cell-generated traction forces activate Piezo1 in the absence of external mechanical forces. An unexpected finding in this study is that native Piezo1 channels are mobile, which opens up new mechanisms of Piezo1 mechanotransduction.
The lab welcomes applications for positions at the postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate levels from trainees who want to be part of an interdisciplinary group that enjoys asking complex questions at the interface of fields. A dedicated mentor, Dr. Pathak says “I believe that success in the lab is most likely when we develop an individualized approach for each member. When trainees join the lab, I work closely with them to identify a research question that best aligns with their research interests and long-term career goals, while leveraging their innate strengths and giving them an opportunity to develop new skills. Our shared goal is to generate novel scientific findings that help each trainee successfully transition to their next career stage. As a multidisciplinary and collaborative group, we are able to support a broad range of research interests.”
You can find out more about the Pathak lab and open positions here, learn about Dr. Pathak’s New Innovator award here, and read a recent interview by Suzan Mazur on Dr. Pathak’s efforts in Mechanobiology here.