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Stories from the community: How a cold email led to an international collaborative grant

Karishma Kaushik

In the fourth article as part of community voices for international grants and fellowships, Karishma shares an experience of a cold email that she wrote leading to a collaborative South — South international grant.

Karishma Comm Call

In 2019, I started my independent research group in human-relevant studies in infection biology, with a focus on wound biofilms, at Savitribai Phule Pune University. We adopted a multi-pronged approach, which included building clinically-relevant, pre-clinical biofilm platforms and developing novel anti-biofilm approaches. As part of this, we were developing an in vitro wound milieu that closely mimicked clinical wound fluid, and could be leveraged for evaluation of potential anti-biofilm therapeutics. In addition, we were also exploring historical wound remedies as anti-biofilm approaches. Wound infections, which in present times are well-known to be caused by biofilms, have evidence of existence since ancient times. Consequently, historical medical practices are replete with plant-based wound remedies, most often based on a combination of ingredients. For this, we were prospecting historical medical treatise, reconstituting remedies with present day practices, and evaluating them for anti-biofilm potential using contemporary scientific assays and analyses. During my reading, I had noted a publication on traditional African remedies as part of wound care practices, communicated by Philip F Builders, National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Abuja, Nigeria. Non-healing wound infections are a common health challenge to both India and Africa, and employing traditional remedies to treat them is also a mutual practice. However, most often, these composite remedies have not been characterized for their antimicrobial and anti-biofilm effects. This is important to not only safeguard against inadvertent effects, but to also evaluate the potential of bringing these remedies into modern medical practice. 

By serendipity, I came across the call for the Africa-India Mobility Fund (AIMF), a joint partnership between DBT / Wellcome TrustIndia Alliance and the African Academy of Sciences. The call was seeking collaborative proposals from investigators in India and any country in Africa, with a focus on exploring common research challenges. With an eye on the grant, I sent an email to Dr. Builders. In it, I described our areas of work, the overlap I could see with his research focus, and a plan to bridge the two for a potential grant application. It was a cold email for an international collaboration; Dr. Builders and I had never interacted before, nor did I know of any common colleagues. I received a response from Dr. Builders the very day; he not only conveyed his eagerness to collaborate but also provided several details of the remedies he worked with, as well as the facilities available at his end. 

Soon after, Dr. Builders and I spoke on the phone. After sharing humor on patchy internet connectivity, we discussed the details of the Africa-India Mobility Fund (AIMF) grant, and the possibility of applying for it towards building a collaboration. In the next few weeks, we got our application packet ready with host institute support at both ends, and submitted the proposal. We proposed to leverage the in vitro wound milieu developed in my group to evaluate historical African wound remedies, reconstituted by Dr. Builders, for anti-biofilm potential. 

While the AIMF grant is primarily intended to foster collaboration via travel, given pandemic-related delays and border restrictions, we have started our collaborative work in remote mode. In doing so, we have an opportunity to build a unique South-South collaboration, based on research relevant to both India and Africa. To think it all started with reading a paper, and following it up with a cold email!