Rajan Jain’s unique journey to becoming a physician-scientist

Rajan Jain, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine and cell and developmental biology, believes his interest in science might be genetic, as his family is comprised of many scientists and physicians. Jain, however, is both.

Rajan Jain headshot.
Rajan Jain, assistant professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Cell and Developmental Biology. (Image: Penn Medicine)

A physician-scientist, Jain treats patients as a cardiologist in addition to seeking new knowledge about stem cell biology, heart development, and genome organization in his lab.

In April, Jain was awarded the Donald Seldin~Holly Smith Award for Pioneering Research from the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), receiving $30,000 to advance his lab’s efforts, while also being selected to deliver a scientific talk at the Association of American Physicians (AAP), ASCI, and American Physician-Scientists Association (APSA) joint meeting in 2022.

“I had a unique path in coming to research in the sense that I’m an MD, not an MD-PhD. Upon arriving at Penn, I met Jonathan Epstein, executive vice dean, chief scientific officer, and the William Wikoff Smith Professor of Cardiovascular Research in the Perelman School of Medicine, and convinced him and my program director to let me do some work in his lab,” says Jain. 

“I ultimately got ‘bit by the research bug’ and took two years between internship and residency to dedicate myself to research efforts in the lab,” he says. “While I don’t have a PhD, I would argue that physicians can direct all flavors of research, including basic-work like I do, while also seeing patients and teaching trainees. I think that’s really the awesome power of being a physician-scientist.”

At Jain’s lab, researchers work in cell identity and mutations. “How does a cell decide to become a liver cell versus a heart muscle cell? What are the genes, proteins, and molecules involved with this process? Are there diseases that are associated with the loss of a cell’s ability to remember itself and what it is supposed to do? We’re interested in understanding this problem of so-called cellular identity and how DNA is organized and interpreted so that a heart muscle cell, skin cell, or brain cell forms. We don’t think this process is random, and we’re trying to understand the rules that govern that organization.”

This story is by Julie Wood. Read more at Penn Medicine News.