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Student Q&A: Ram Prosad Chakrabarty, Driskill Graduate Program in the Life Sciences

Ram Prosad Chakrabarty

Ram Prosad Chakrabarty, a second year student in the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences (DGP), studies cellular metabolism in the laboratory of Navdeep Chandel, PhD, the David W. Cugell, MD, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care and of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics.

Where is your hometown?

I grew up in Parameshwardi, a small, picturesque village in Bangladesh. Around the age of 14, I moved to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, to complete my higher secondary and college educations.

What are your research interests?

I have a deep interest in studying the impact of metabolism on physiological and pathological outcomes. A few decades back, protein-based regulatory systems were thought to control all the important cellular decisions, while the metabolism was believed to be important just for providing energy and biosynthetic building blocks in response to signals from the nucleus. However, recent studies have shed light on the driving roles of metabolism in many important cellular decision-makings, which is fascinating.

This could have implications for disease: While the upsurge in non-communicable diseases such as cancer or neurodegenerative disease is generally attributed to pathogenic genetic variants, I find an alternative hypothesis equally, if not more, fascinating.

It suggests that changes in our diets, lifestyle, and environment in the new world, which can directly affect our metabolism and thereby gene expression, are responsible for the upsurge in these pathologies. Therefore, I think a deep understanding of metabolism would be instrumental in developing effective therapeutic approaches for these diseases.

What exciting projects are you working on?

In the lab of Professor Navdeep Chandel, I am currently working on the biology of L-2-hydroxyglutarate (L-2-HG), a very important cellular metabolite. Different studies have reported the association of deregulated production of L-2-HG with autoimmunity, developmental pathology and brain and kidney cancers. Our preliminary data show that L-2-HG level significantly rises upon an increase in mitochondrial NADH/NAD+ ratio in stem cells, regulatory T cells, human cancer cell lines and in the brain of a Leigh Syndrome mouse model.

We hypothesize that a low-level L-2-HG is necessary for normal physiological and developmental processes, whereas elevated L-2-HG level contributes to the pathophysiology of metabolic developmental disorders. Now, we are comprehensively testing our hypothesis by employing unique genetic approaches and pharmacological interventions in different cell culture and mouse models.

What attracted you to your program?

The program's interdisciplinary nature and top-notch research groups in the fields of metabolism and epigenetics were the primary attractive factors for me.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?

Working with Professor Navdeep Chandel and his group has been one of the best experiences I have had so far at Feinberg. His book, Navigating Metabolism, which I came across in 2016, greatly enhanced my fascination with metabolism. Fortunately, after admission, I got the opportunity to do my first rotation in his lab, and received from him the most important lessons for performing causal, reproducible and robust experiments.

I also feel fortunate that I worked on a project with Greg McElroy, an MD-PhD student in Chandel lab, during the rotation. Greg is a fantastic human and excellent researcher, and his guidance helped me find my footing in a new research field. Similarly, the inclusive, diverse and friendly atmosphere at Feinberg has impressed me a lot.

So far, I have found everyone I interact with, including my classmates, advisors, labmates, TAs, staff and faculty, very open, friendly, and supportive. It appears to me that everyone at Feinberg is always ready to accept others for who they are and support them to advance in their lives and achieve their goals.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?

At Feinberg, I have found all the faculty members I have interacted with to be highly accomplished researchers who have made original contributions in their fields. They are also excellent educators. I find them to be very open to new ideas, collaborative and caring about the students' success. I have been benefited greatly from my personal interactions with them.

What do you do in your free time?

In my free time, I usually listen to Indian folk and classical music and read books of different genres. I have special interests in medieval and contemporary Bengali literature, Indology, Platonic dialogues and political commentaries across the spectrum. I also try to keep abreast of the socio-politico-cultural dynamics in Bangladesh, my home country. Sometimes, I watch movies and comedy shows, and also try to follow major tennis and cricket tournaments.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I want to pursue a career in research. After my PhD, I hope to obtain a postdoctoral position in another excellent lab that works on metabolism. Then, I want to establish my laboratory so that I can continue enjoying the excitement of working together to discover something new and important. Also, I will continue to put my efforts toward raising public awareness about the importance of scientific research because, in democracy, the voters decide the future of science.