Dr. Rao obtained her Ph.D. in Biophysics from Harvard University, did her postdoctoral work at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, and was a faculty member (Assistant, Associate and full Professor) in the Department of Pathology, Harvard Medical School (HMS) until 2010, when she moved to the La Jolla Institute and the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in San Diego.
The research in her lab focuses on how signalling pathways connect to gene expression. Her lab purified and molecularly characterized the transcription factor NFAT; demonstrated that NFAT proteins regulate the diverse programs of T cell activation, anergy and exhaustion; and identified the pore subunit of the store-operated Ca2+ channel, ORAI1, through the combination of a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila cells and the investigation of a hereditary immunodeficiency syndrome in human patients. As a visiting scientist at Signal Pharmaceuticals, she directed research that resulted in the first identification of the NFkB upstream regulatory kinases IKK-1 and IKK-2.
Her lab was the first to show that cytokine gene expression in differentiating T cells is regulated through chromatin changes occurring during differentiation. Most recently, she showed that proteins of the TET family are Fe(II) and 2-oxoglutarate-dependent dioxygenases that alter DNA methylation status by oxidizing 5-methylcytosine. Her lab is now defining the roles of TET proteins and oxidized methylcytosines in the immune and haematopoietic systems, embryonic development and oncogenesis.