Georg-August University, Goettingen, Germany
Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, NCR-Biotech Science Cluster, Faridabad
My interest in biology was nurtured primarily by wonderful teachers in high school and college. Specializing in biochemistry, microbiology and cell biology during graduation and post-graduation further helped me to focus in these areas. However, like most university post-graduates from small towns in India, I had very little exposure and hands-on training in experimental research in life sciences. My tenure at Indian Institute of Science (IISc) as a project assistant was a turning point in my career and it helped me to develop experimental and analytical skills in cell biology in addition to critical thinking. Working on protein trafficking pathways and lysosomal disorders using in vitro and in vivo approaches during my doctoral research at Georg-August University, Germany, got me interested into understanding how microorganisms usurp cellular pathways for their survival and the role of host factors in pathogenesis. I found the interactions of viruses with the host cells both intriguing and fascinating as the questions were many and answers very few. Some of the questions that intrigued me include: i) What are the host factors that determine tropism of viruses? ii) Are there common host pathways which viruses from diverse families use for replication? iii) What is the contribution of pathogen per se and the host response in determining the course of the disease? I was curious to pursue my research to answer some of these questions.
My cell biology expertise came in handy to understand virus-host interactions in Dr. Jay Nelson's lab at Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, Portland, Oregon as a post-doctoral fellow. Jay gave me the freedom to both explore and learn various aspects of flavivirus biology using West Nile virus as a model. It was during this period that I got interested in understanding the importance of epithelial and endothelial barriers in viral infections and how viruses from different families use and disrupt the components of the permeability barriers resulting in compromised barrier functions either directly or indirectly. I joined Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) and established a clinical and cellular virology lab with primary focus on dengue virus biology to further look into the mechanism of endothelial barrier disruption in dengue infections and to identify host factors involved in dengue life-cycle. THSTI is a unique institute with a focused mandate on working towards solutions for better health and here I have had the opportunity to interact with clinicians, immunologists, nutrition biologists and infectious disease experts. This laid the foundation for my ongoing project where we are investigating the effect of viral infections on cellular zinc homeostasis. We are using multiple viruses to probe how changes in Zn levels during viral infections influence the functions of epithelial and endothelial barriers. Our results may help decipher the mechanism of action behind zinc supplementation in virus infections and assist in designing strategies that could be virus-specific for beneficial outcomes.