Nithya Neelakantan, Ph.D., Joins UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health

By Kev' Moye

Neelakantan earned her master’s degree in biostatistics from Christian Medical College (CMC) in India and a doctorate in epidemiology from Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in nutritional epidemiology in Singapore.

Neelakantan has more than 15 years of research experience in academia, the hospital and health sector and the pharmaceutical industry. Her research is primarily focused on investigating the role of lifestyle factors in relation to chronic disease development and prevention. She has worked on several key projects that were funded by NIH, Singapore’s Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education, and her research findings were very helpful in informing dietary policies. She has collaborated with Singapore’s Health Promotion Board for the development of a dietary assessment questionnaire that is being used in the National Nutrition Survey and other nutritional epidemiological studies in Singapore.

At UAMS, Neelakantan will teach and conduct research in the Department of Epidemiology. She also will serve the Arkansas Department of Health as a consultant and provides epidemiological and statistical support to the Division of Health Advancement.

“My roots lie in south India, each chapter of my life’s journey has shaped my perspective and contributed to my passion for addressing health disparities through research and education in epidemiology and public health,” she said. “Growing up in a middle-class family, I witnessed firsthand the challenges and disparities regarding health care. Seeing these disparities and lack of public health awareness within my own community inspired me to pursue a career in public health.”

Neelakantan first gained an interest in epidemiology while pursuing her master’s in biostatistics. She enjoyed the use of statistical methods to understand patterns of disease in populations. Since then, with epidemiology as her focus, Neelakantan has worked as a research officer and lecturer for CMC, as a lead biostatistician for Aravind Eye Care System, a network of eye hospitals in India, and as a senior scientist at Biocon Ltd, an India-based pharmaceutical company.

Neelakantan’s long-term goal is to study complex interactions between lifestyle factors, gene-and environmental factors in relation to noncommunicable diseases, and to address the need for promoting healthier lifestyles to mitigate chronic disease burden. She’s also eager to use her professional experiences and connections to help train Arkansas’ next generation of public health professionals.

“The opportunity to work within a dynamic academic environment, collaborate with renowned researchers and contribute to the education of future public health professionals was highly appealing to me,” she said. “The university’s focus on community engagement and addressing health disparities aligned with my own values and career aspirations.

“I plan to foster a passion for scientific inquiry and critical thinking among my students,” she said. “I’ll aim to inspire them to become future epidemiology leaders who have the knowledge and skills necessary to address pressing public health challenges.”