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Neel_MadhukarForbes magazine has named a UT alumnus to its annual “30 Under 30” list of young people making big strides in their chosen field.

Neel Madhukar, 24, a 2013 alumnus in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, and research partner Kaitlyn Gayvert, 25, were recognized for their work using algorithms to learn about cancer genomes. They’re using machine learning and molecular biology in their cancer research—from trying to find new drug targets and predicting the toxicity of the drugs to predicting whether a clinical trial will be successful.

Both doctoral candidates, they work in the Elemento Lab at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

Madhukar’s UT education in biology and math paved the way for the computational biology research he’s doing today, he said, noting that his professors “didn’t just teach old things from old textbooks” but demonstrated how math and engineering can be used in real-world applications in biology.

“Most of my research involves making sense of the large amounts of biological data, which requires not only knowledge of the underlying genes and biology but also of mathematics and computer science techniques so that we appropriately deal with this amount of data,” he said.

As a UT undergraduate, Madhukar was interested in health and health care.

“It wasn’t until my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer that I got interested in cancer genetics specifically,” he said. “If every patient is different, and their cancers are different, then why are most patients being treated in the exact same way? It was around that time I decided I wanted to work on cancer precision medicine—the process of designing and choosing cancer treatments based on a patient’s precise genetic state.

“Currently, I am working on one side of the cancer precision medicine problem, or how we can increase the number of drugs that can be given to these patients and how we can improve the current process of drug development.”

As a child, Madhukar loved puzzles and spent many afternoons playing chess—activities he believed helped him eventually develop the problem-oriented mindset needed for research.

Madhukar developed UT ties during his middle and high school years in Knoxville. He is the son of Madhu S. Madhukar, a UT associate professor of mechanical aerospace and biomedical engineering.

“My father was involved with the Tennessee Science Olympiad, and I was able to go with him and see top-notch science and engineering in action while I was still in school,” he said.

Learn more about the “30 Under 30” leaders online.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,