My Journey in Science

Right from my childhood, I have been fascinated by the study of Biological Sciences; especially by the study of the human immune system and its function. My interest has increased with time, and after my high school, I decided to pursue my higher studies in Pharmaceutical Sciences and got admitted to Andhra University College of Pharmaceutical Sciences in India. As a Pharmaceutical Sciences major in my undergrad, I acquired a sound knowledge of the human physiology and body metabolism along with the recent advances in pharmaceutical research. This was attributed to the intensive lab work and an excellent curriculum in the core subjects of pharmaceutical sciences at the university. Moreover, it was at the threshold of my Bachelor’s when I realized that a lot more subject has to be assimilated, and more knowledge has to be gained by me to accomplish my future research goals. This motivated me to apply and join the research-intensive Master’s program in Biomedical Sciences at East Carolina University-Brody School of Medicine. Here, I developed technical and manual research skills useful for a wide-ranging understanding of multiple scientific disciplines, mainly focusing on studying the role of various gene regulatory networks on Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) germline tumor development.

Upper: Wild-type C. elegans adult hermaphrodite germline. Lower: puf-8; lip-1 mutant C. elegans with proximal germline tumor.

Later on, I worked as an Analytical Chemist in the Steriles lab in Patheon Pharmaceuticals Inc., where I gained experience working with generic drug products. Here, working in an industrial setting in compliance with cGMP, GLP, FDA and safety guidelines helped me understand the real world applications of scientific research. It is at this stage where I developed an interest in exploring the clinical research, taking ideas from lab to operating room. This led me in the direction of applying to the Ph.D. program in Translational Biology, Medicine and Health (TBMH) at Virginia Tech with a goal of exploring the latest advances in the field of Immune Engineering, and developing new tools to screen for novel immunotherapies in treating debilitating disease conditions (like cancer, sepsis, and the associated infections in immunocompromised patients etc.).

Currently a doctorate student in the TBMH program at Virginia Tech, my research is highly interdisciplinary, with an emphasis on translating discoveries from bench-to-bedside. It involves aspects of microbial ecology, synthetic biology, computational modeling, host-pathogen dynamics, and microfabrication, mainly focused on 1) studying the acquired resistance in an engineered E. coli killer-prey microecology, and 2) measuring the innate immune cell decision-making in pathogen killing, in engineered 3D microenvironments. My research is mainly focused on bridging traditional engineering disciplines with immunology and microbiology to develop new microfluidic technologies to precisely quantify immune cell phenotypes during host-pathogen interactions, with high temporal resolution.

Few of my most recent accomplishments include receiving the David W. Francis and Lillian Francis Scholarship Fund from Virginia Tech graduate school for the 2018-19 term. This fellowship is annually awarded to only two students university-wide for research emphasizing longer, safer, and healthier lives. I also had my first-author research manuscript on “The spatiotemporal system dynamics of acquired resistance in an engineered microecology” published recently in Scientific Reports (end of 2017). In this study, I was able to combine wet-lab experiments and mathematical models to unravel the spatiotemporal patterns of phenotypic and genotypic resistance acquired in bacterial pathogens. This is a significant finding, especially with increasing concerns about the emergence of “antibiotic-resistant” pathogens in recent times.

I am currently working on developing a robust in vitro microfluidic assay to quantify the differences in the neutrophil decision-making in response to diverse infection states of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. I aim to extend the usability of this microfluidic assay to also study host (primary human neutrophils) response to soft-tissue infections of Clostridium perfringens (like gas gangrene) in an anaerobic microenvironment. This project is done in collaboration with Dr. Steve Melville, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech. Another interesting work that I am currently involved in collaboration with Dr. Marko Radic’s team (at University of Tennessee Health Science Center) is to study the chemotactic migration of neutrophils towards inflammatory stimuli in fractions of RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) patient synovial fluid samples. The ultimate goal of this microfluidic method is to allow for high-throughput screening of new drugs that can modulate neutrophil migration and function in the context of infectious and autoimmune disease states.