Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India
National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi
McGill University, Canada
University of Michigan, USA
Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India
Looking back, I realize that ever since my high school years, I had profound interest in biology and specifically in understanding the scientific basis of things. This naturally led me to major in Life Sciences during my undergraduate and master's program. Especially during my Master's degree I specialized in "Genetics", a field of biology that always intrigued me. Above all valuable guidance from my mentors, strong support from my family and the "University Level Merit Scholarship Award" I received during my master's program motivated me to pursue a career in research. For my graduate thesis work I characterized the genetic toxicity of phenoxy- and chloroacetanilide compounds. The findings from my Ph.D. dissertation were published in several peer-reviewed international journals of high repute. My doctoral work on the chromosome breakages induced by genotoxic insult helped me in understanding the causal role played by chromosomal aberrations in cancer. The Research Associate Fellowship Award from the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) supported me to pursue a brief post-doctoral research in cancer biology at the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and later at National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi. With a quest to uncover underlying molecular mechanisms that operate in cancer I next sought for research opportunities abroad.
My research work in Dr. Shafaat Rabbani's laboratory at McGill University, Montreal interrogated various epigenetic mechanisms that operate in cancer and we published our findings in journals such as Neoplasia (2008). The Skeletal Health Research fellowship from Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CHIR) funded my stay at McGill. In addition during my stay at McGill, I successfully competed for two other Postdoctoral Fellowship Awards from the Research Institute of McGill University Health Centre and Department of Medicine, McGill University.
The rapidly emerging field of genomics and the associated advances in high throughput technologies such as microarrays and Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) is transforming life sciences research. To gain exposure to this rapidly evolving field, I joined Dr. Arul Chinnaiyan's laboratory at University of Michigan (UofM), which applied various high throughput methodologies to understand cancer. The seminal discovery of the recurrent (~50%) gene fusion in PCa involving the androgen-regulated TMPRSS2 with ETS transcription factors family formed the basis for classification of the disease by distinct molecular subtypes. However, the key molecular alterations involved in ETS-rearrangement negative cancers are unclear. At that juncture, we identified over-expression of an important therapeutic target namely, SPINK1 (serine peptidase inhibitor, Kazal type 1) in 10-15% of aggressive subset of prostate cancers, also negative for ETS genetic rearrangements. Taking this discovery to the next level, I utilized in-vivo mouse models to understand the role of SPINK1 in prostate cancer tumorigenicity. My findings provided a rationale for targeting the SPINK1 protein in the SPINK1+/ETS-negative subset of prostate tumors. In addition, I also discovered interaction of SPINK1 with EGF receptor that could be exploited as an additional target for therapeutic intervention (Science Translational Medicine, 2011). Going forward, my main research goal will be to unravel the underlying mechanism for the increased SPINK1 expression in a subset of aggressive PCa and to investigate the role of SPINK1 in cancer metastases. During my tenure abroad, I was fortunate be a productive member in several collaborative projects. In this process I worked with various esteemed scientists and physicians in addition to interacting and training several undergraduate students, fellows and laboratory research associates. Among the various projects I handled, my contributions in characterization of the functional aspects of RAF gene-rearrangement subset of prostate cancers patients (Nature Medicine, 2011), and genomic loss of miRNA101 in metastatic prostate cancer (Science, 2008) are particularly noteworthy. I was recognized with the highly competitive Genentech Postdoctoral Award (2010-12) from the Genentech Foundation, San Francisco and Young Investigator Award from Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research, Idaho (2009) for my research efforts. Moreover, demonstration of SPINK1 as a therapeutic target in ETS-negative prostate cancer also fetched me the highly prestigious AACR Women in Cancer Research Scholar Award (2011) by American Association for Cancer Research.
In summary, my efforts over the years have provided me a deeper understanding on the contributions of genetic events in cancer. As an independent faculty at the Department of Biological Sciences & Bioengineering, I am in the process of establishing a research laboratory at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK). The Chair and the Administrative Staff at IITK have been very supportive in my endeavors and importantly the prestigious fellowship from the Wellcome Trust-DBT India will provide me the much needed support to launch my independent research career. Over the course of my training I have also learned the value of working in a multi-disciplinary team to conduct high-impact research, which will benefit cancer patients. Therefore, my main goal is to provide an interactive platform to discuss and communicate research ideas with clinicians and basic science researchers, which will inspire and promote biomedical research in India.
Philosophically, I feel science and research should serve societal needs and scientists should be instrumental in this service. My choice of projects and efforts are governed by this concern. I approach projects and related questions with an open mind, deeply aware that knowledge is constantly reshaped by new discoveries and inventions. I also feel technology has an important role to play in the modern life sciences. My own approach includes embracing emerging technologies, tools and model systems to holistically address science questions. I hold ethics both personal as well society related in highest esteem. My goal is to establish a vibrant, interactive, cutting edge research group whose members form a cordial and coherent team.