Arpana Gupta, PhD


Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress
Ingestive Behavior and Obesity Program
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

CHS 42-210 MC737818
10833 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90095-7378
Phone: (310) 206-0192
Fax: (310) 825-1919
Skype: aagupta9

“I came to America as a foreigner expecting change and became an American making the changes I expected.”
– Arpana Gupta, PhD

Beneath Annie’s soft exterior lies a tenacity that has survived unfathomable odds, and will not be dissuaded by anyone or anything. She grew up in Zambia, a nation where the highest attainable level of education was 7th grade in those years. The odds did not favor Annie getting a PhD, and certainly not on her conducting research at one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. However, academic excellence, discipline, and persistence allowed her to prevail and rise above the challenges of her natal circumstances. Death, violence, apartheid, and hate crimes were all on the road from a small Zambian township to Los Angeles. More importantly, in far off Africa, Annie dreamed of a level of healthcare and research that she imagined to be in America. Regrettably, American research and health care has not reached that point. Most people write disappointment off under “dreams do not always come true.” Annie is not most people. The disparity between her vision of American healthcare and medicine and the American reality inspires Annie to pay the price to make her dreams come true. She is incarnate proof that despite odds that would be unfathomable to most, the human spirit is unconquerable in legion with the brilliance of the mind, tenacity of the heart, and wisdom of the soul.

“Chutes and Ladders: Ups and Downs and the Times in Between”
– Arpana Gupta, PhD

My interest in the influence of psychosocial factors on stress and pain-related health outcomes developed out of an amalgam of early personal experiences. Growing up in Southern Africa, experiences associated with apartheid, violence, hate crimes, and oppression became an integral part of my daily vernacular. I came from a background where health disparities are a glaring issue, where wealth and impoverishment coexist side-by-side, where hate and anger are rooted in historical and socio-cultural factors, and where simple basic privileges such as health care or education are based upon skin color and socioeconomic status. At an early age I realized what it meant to be denied equal access to basic privileges and I was a witness to hate crimes that were rooted in race, religion, and class. Thus began the process when the part of me defined as ‘other’ moved me to question the unquestioned and advocate for the misunderstood. It is safe to say that my interest in health outcomes began at an early age, probably at a time when health disparities and adversity had little meaning and weight in my small young world. It was then that I started to reframe my position as an underrepresented minority living in a world where inequalities are present. I started to think of the possibilities for myself as a researcher. The epiphany struck that because I was in an unusual field for a woman with my cultural identity, which was based on navigating different worlds (African, Asian and American), I remained different from those around me, and was the under-represented minority both within my own culture and in the culture at large. However, I had enormous freedom to create a career based on what I perceived were factors leading to disparities.

During my Masters degree internship at Wake Forest Hospital, I focused on my passion to serve women who were victims of adverse life events by providing interventions that were based in emergency rooms and primary care facilities. As a woman, I understood the importance of providing support and treatment for women who came from battered, secretive and paternalistic backgrounds; where the value of being female is considered undesirable and where feticide, infant and honor killings are the norm. As a result, during my doctoral program, I spearheaded several research projects in the areas of racial disparities and psychopathology that impacted health outcomes in disadvantaged populations. My dissertation project focused on the model minority myth among Asian Americans and the impact of psychosocial factors such as stereotypes and discrimination among Asian Americans. These studies led me to appreciate the complex interplay of psychosocial and environmental factors in contributing to negative health and functional outcomes. Then during my internship at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical Center and my postdoctoral fellowship at the UCLA Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior, I became interested in investigating the neural and cognitive outcomes within various mood disorders. This allowed me to explore the effects of adverse psychosocial environmental factors on cognitive and neural components in the pathophysiology of specific disorders, and my first postdoctoral project investigated the neural responses to racial discrimination and was recognized at the Society for Neuroscience by being selected for a press release. In 2012, in order to strengthen my research skills and develop my program of research, I joined the Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of stress, where I began to investigate the neural markers associated with stress and pain-based disorders like obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, and vulvodynia.

As currently envisioned, my research program, broadly defined focuses on providing powerful and sensitive biomarkers of obesity by investigating the bidirectional interactions between the brain and the gut (microbiome and immune system) that contribute to the pathophysiology of obesity related to increases in the hedonic-related food addiction component of food intake which are no longer driven by homeostatic needs, and are thus likely to play an important pathophysiological role in some obese individuals. I am dedicated to using advanced automated and mathematical analytic techniques which allows me to integrate information from multimodal neuroimaging data, gene profiles, microbiome data, clinical behaviors, and adverse environmental factors, while accounting for sex and race differences. My goal is to develop a comprehensive model that provides a powerful and sensitive biomarker that will increase biological readouts of hedonic eating behaviors, thus bringing to the forefront those disadvantaged groups and individuals who are at increased risk for this type of obesity.