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Sanjeethan Baksh

Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/Sloan Kettering

When medical student Sanjeethan “Sanjee” Baksh would spend time in the intensive care unit, he noticed that medical teams were tracking patients’ metabolism in various ways: their oxygen levels, the counts of this or that chemical. But he didn’t find a clear explanation for how changes in those measures might be driving disease, or how they could be targeted.

He’s carried that same line of questioning to his research. When he started graduate school, he was fascinated by the question of what happens as cells start accumulating mutations that set them on the path toward a tumor. The interest led him to consider cellular metabolism — essentially, do the nutrients the cell uses or the metabolic pathways in a cell determine whether it forms a tumor?

“I view science and medicine as something I have a responsibility in training the next generation for.”

Baksh’s research has shown that, as stem cells mutate, their metabolism also gets rewired. And those changes can make them cancerous.

Baksh, who received his Ph.D. this year and is wrapping up his M.D. next year through a joint program at Weill Cornell Medical College, Rockefeller University, and Memorial Sloan Kettering, hopes to balance both clinical work and research going forward. He’s currently applying for residency programs and wants to become a critical care physician.

“It’s extremely humbling taking care of patients when they’re critically ill, and guiding them and their families through that process,” he said.

Baksh, who was born in Trinidad and moved to the United States as a child, is also involved with a program to attract undergraduate students from underrepresented communities into medicine and science, helping them compile applications and prepare for interviews. 

“I view science and medicine as something I have a responsibility in training the next generation for,” he said. 

— Andrew Joseph