Krishana Sankar is a PhD student at the University of Toronto working on type I diabetes treatments. In particular, she investigates how to prolong the life of islets prior to transplantation to improve the efficiency of transplantation. Want to know more about Krishana’s work and autofluorescence? Follow the links below!

Most of us will remember a time when we were sticking glow in the dark stars on our ceilings, shone a light and then watched as they lit up the dark room. The emitted light is known as fluorescence, created by artificial compounds. However, some biological structures can also produce natural fluorescence, a process called autofluorescence. ‘The common compounds that give rise to this fluorescence signal include cyclic ring compounds like NAD(P)H, collagen, and riboflavin, as well as (some) amino acids” explains passionate ballet dancer and PhD candidate Krishana Sankar.

Simply put, fluorescence is the absorption of light in short wavelengths and the emission of longer wavelength. Incoming high-energy wavelength, usually found in the ultraviolet spectrum, raise the energy of electrons in a molecule to an excited state. The return of the electrons to their ground state causes a loss of energy, which produces light. Fluorescent dyes have near endless in biological applications where they are used to trace and label specific biomolecules, cell structures, cell cultures, whole organisms, and found in a host of in vitro assays.

While fluorescence is usually associated with synthetic compounds,  autofluorescence is the natural emission of light by biological compounds – things like mitochondria and extracellular matrix structures autofluoresce. “Many times in biological studies, we require the use of extraneous chemicals to ‘fix’ cells in place to visualize their structures,” Krishana says. ‘This requires the cells/tissues to be being frozen in time and state, therefore, we are unable to study them in their native dynamic state.” In her thesis research on diabetes, Krishana is well aware of the uses and benefits of autofluorescent molecules. Attempting to improve the efficiency of transplanting islets of Langerhans (clusters of several types of pancreatic cells including such that produce insulin), she uses the autofluorescent signal of NAD(P)H in order to measure the metabolism of living islets. Visualizing functions of cells in live states is what makes this word of interest to her.

Krishana is not only passionate about her research, but also outreach. As a fellow sister in STEM she says, “I strongly believe that as a female scientist in my position studying diabetes I have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of those with diabetes, and for fellow females and women of color in STEM who may not have the opportunities that I do.” Krishana does science communication on various platforms, so if you are curious about her work, you can follow on any of the following platforms:





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Photo by 贝莉儿 NG on Unsplash

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