New faculty profile: Dhanu Shanmuganayagam develops genetic swine models of human diseases


Dhanansayan “Dhanu” Shanmuganayagam joined the faculty in the Department of Animal Sciences in July. eCALS asked him a few questions:

Briefly describe your career path—up to this point.
I have been at the University of Wisconsin–Madison my entire career. Very early in my undergraduate years, I became involved in research at the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine (UWSMPH) under the mentorship of Dr. John Folts. I was fortunate to have a lot of independence from the beginning, which allowed me to start publishing soon thereafter and to subsequently have a large role in running the research program. While at Cardiology, I completed my Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences, with an emphasis on human nutrition and biochemistry. I did my post-doctoral training under the mentorship of Dr. Richard Weindruch at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the Geriatrics Research Education and Clinical Center (VA Hospital) in the fields of aging and caloric restriction. This postdoctoral training gave me a broader appreciation for the interconnection between genetics, physiology and nutrition, and the commonality between the pathophysiology of various chronic diseases. Before being offered a faculty position, I spent four years at the Department of Animal Sciences leading the use of swine as a translational model of cardiovascular disease as one of the PIs of the Reed Research Group.

What is the main focus of your research program?
My research program is focused on the development and utilization of novel swine models of human disease for elucidating mechanisms and discovering targets for development of diagnostic and therapeutic technologies. The genetic proximity of swine to humans and the overwhelming similarities in anatomy, physiology, and nutrition make swine the ideal model for preclinical studies of the interaction between genetics and nutrition as it relates to diseases. I believe that the use of such highly translational models accelerate the rate at which discoveries can be developed into applications and technologies that benefit human and animal health.

In partnership with the UW Biotechnology Center, we now have the tools necessary to edit the genome of the swine with great precision, and thus we have embarked on an initiative to create genetic swine models of diseases that have been previously challenging to study. As I am a strong proponent of collaboration, my research program is involved in many areas of research including in the cardiovascular, neurology, surgery, cancer, radiology and biomedical engineering fields. At the core, we believe in being innovative and helping others with their innovative ideas.

 What drew you to UW-Madison?
I simply love the collaborative, innovative, and entrepreneurial culture of UW-Madison.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to keep physically active, weight lifting and training for marathons or some self-imposed challenge. When not doing that, I like to indulge in the ever-growing food and craft beer scene in Madison.

Photo credit: Paal Lunde Tonne.