Honored with the 2006 Anthony Linnane Young Investigator Award from the Mitochondrial Research Society and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for his findings on mitochondrial metabolism regulation of cancer, Navdeep Chandel, PhD, associate professor of Medicine and Cell & Developmental Biology, earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a PhD in cell physiology from the University of Chicago. He joined the medical school nearly 11 years ago to study the function of mitochondria as signaling organelles.
Outside of his research interests, Chandel enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking and is an avid soccer fan. Most recently he visited Peru, and he has also lived in the Himalayan Mountains and the beaches of Miami.
What are your research interests?
My laboratory is interested in how mitochondria function as signaling organelles. We and others have demonstrated that mitochondria can release reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can initiate signaling. ROS have been proposed as a common causal agent in cancer, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, ischemia related diseases, neurodegeneration, and aging.
We hypothesize that mitochondrial-generated ROS at complex III provides for an oxidative environment in the cytosol that is permissive for the fitness of cells and the organism. My ultimate goal is to demonstrate that complex III is a major signaling hub regulating multiple physiological processes. I aim to understand how mitochondrial signaling regulates diseases like cancer.
Being in the Department of Medicine, I engage with clinicians daily. These frequent interactions have encouraged me to translate my work from the bench to the bedside. My laboratory has been examining whether different metabolic enzymes are utilized in normal cells compared to cancer cells. If there is a particular enzyme that is dispensable for normal cells but is heavily utilized by cancer cells for growth, then it would represent a putative drug target for cancer therapy.
How did you become interested in this area of research?
I found the field of mathematics to be limiting because you work alone in solving problems. Biological sciences encourage a team approach to tackling a problem. Also, there is an intellectual ceiling to mathematics. I remember receiving a take home exam for my last class in mathematics. It took me a week to finish only half the exam while a classmate of mine finished it within two hours. I knew it was time to look for a new discipline.
I love biology because it ultimately is an observational discipline. The key is to know which observations to ignore and which observations one should pay attention to.
Which honors are you most proud of and why?
I recently organized the Keystone Symposia on hypoxia. It was extremely gratifying to organize a major meeting in a field I had been working in for only ten years. I started as an assistant professor in January 2000. During my first five years, most investigators within the hypoxia field did not believe our findings that mitochondrial complex III regulates hypoxic gene expression. During the past five years, we and others have provided genetic evidence that complex III regulates gene expression, and slowly we have converted most of the hypoxia community to believing that this idea is correct.
What do you enjoy about mentoring students?
To date, I have had seven students finish their PhD in my laboratory. Currently, I have five PhD students. I have always enjoyed mentoring young minds because they are immensely curious and willing to do just about any crazy experiment; they don’t have enough information or reasoning to discount any crazy idea. I also like the energy and enthusiasm that they bring to a project. Most of the students at that age believe in the “work hard, party hard” mentality to life. I continue to live by that motto, so I thoroughly enjoy my interaction with the students.