Note to listeners: This recording was done over a zoom meeting call due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in a slightly diminished audio quality with some mild disturbances in the recording, compared to a studio-quality recording.
[00:00:00] — Intro
You are listening to IndiaBiospeaks, voices from the life science community in India.
[00:00:09] — Suchibrata Borah
Hello everyone. I’m Suchibrata, and you are listening to IndiaBiospeaks Radio PDF. At Radio PDF, we talk to postdoctoral researchers working in India about their research and the benefits and challenges of working in India, and what they think needs improvement. All right, it’s time to introduce our third guest of this season.
[00:00:44] — Mithu Baidya:
I’m Mithu Baidya, and I am a postdoctoral fellow at Dr. Arun Kumar Shukla’s lab at IIT Kanpur my core interest lies in studying GPCRs, so G Protein Coupled Receptors.
[00:00:59] — Suchibrata Borah:
Welcome Mithu to Radio PDF. You mentioned GPCRs, G Protein Coupled Receptors. Let’s start with what GPCRs are and why they are important for the drug market.
[00:01:14] — Mithu Baidya:
One line which will underline its importance is that currently, more than 40% of marketed drugs target this set of receptors. So to treat many kinds of diseases and ailments that we see, and that’s why it makes it very, very important and interesting receptors to study. So GPCRs, or, simply G Protein Coupled Receptors, are the largest and the most versatile group of cell surfaced receptors. So, in fact, they make the largest superfamily of cell surface receptors, and they’re very important because almost all our sensory organs work through these receptors. For example, we visualize through a set of receptors, which are Rhodopsin receptor, again which is GPCRs. We taste, we smell, and all our immune system, our perception, many of these basic instincts that we grow and, you know, of our system, which you know, boils down to, in fact, individual cells. These receptors have a very important role to play because they act as a gatekeeper and by which, you know, the exterior signal comes and binds to this receptor, and it relays those signal inside the cell. So to bring out, you know, favorable response to environmental cues.
[00:02:35] — Suchibrata Borah
So, Mithu, why and how did you select your current research project?
[00:02:40] — Mithu Baidya
Okay, so after I finished my Ph.D. at IIT Kharagpur, where I was working with a protozoan parasite entamoeba. Working in that system, I realized that many of the developmental biology, I mean many of its important role that parasite has in terms of inflicting pathogenesis in humans has to, you know, play around through this group of receptors. And I wanted to learn about this receptor in much more detail. So when I joined IIT Kanpur, Arun Shukla was one of the, you know, shining stars in the field of GPCR biology. And many of the things were not known in the field. For example, as I told you, the GPCRs are very important therapeutic targets. So it is very important that we remain invested in studying this molecule so that we can leverage it for our future therapeutic meds.
[00:03:33] — Suchibrata Borah:
Could you please tell us more about your research work and what was your primary focus when you started?
[00:03:41] — Mithu Baidya:
So initially, people saw GPCRs work primarily with G proteins, and that’s why they are called G Protein Coupled Receptors. But you know, a decade back, people realized that there is another important set of proteins called 𝛽‑arrestin, which are also an equally important player, which also can initiate signaling and can bring out, you know, a favorable response that is required after you get an environmental, a cell gets an environmental cue. And that part of the function of how G protein interacts with 𝛽‑arrestin and how it functions, it was not really known. In fact, you know, there are several varieties of G proteins present in the cells. So cell can, you know, play with permutation and combination so that it can select which combination of G protein and its cognate partner can bind and give out signaling outcomes. For 𝛽‑arrestin, it was very different because 𝛽‑arrestin can only have two isoforms and how more than 800 GPCRs functions through two of these 𝛽‑arrestin isoforms was mind-baffling. So people really did not understand how can these two limited repertoires or 𝛽‑arrestin could give out such diverse signaling outcomes. You know, when I entered the field, there were only limited hints in the literature which suggested that 𝛽‑arrestin can acquire multiple confirmations, but we did not have a toolbox to identify those kinds of confirmations. So I joined Arun’s lab. The primary focus was to develop a set of toolkit or a sensor which can read 𝛽‑arrestin confirmations. So I used a synthetic antibody platform, and then we generated a series of confirmational sensors against 𝛽‑arrestin, and then my contribution in the field was to realize that, you know, 𝛽‑arrestin indeed can acquire this confirmation and using these conformational sensors, we can now probe the confirmation of the 𝛽‑arrestin in cellulo, meaning inside the cells.
[00:05:46] — Suchibrata Borah:
Mithu, I believe many research groups worldwide are working on GPCRs, solving different problems, and the drug market also seems to be very interested in how GPCR works. So what is the long-term goal here that could impact people’s lives?
[00:06:03] — Mithu Baidya:
Yeah, it’s a big ask, as you say. I mean, there are multiple important groups contributing towards this. And the primary aim of all these groups, including us, is to identify, you know, a way or means to develop safer drugs, which will have, you know, lesser side effects compared to currently marketed drugs because now we understand that, you know, GPCRs can signal through G protein and 𝛽‑arrestin and it is found that for some GPCRs, the G protein signaling can give favorable effect, but the 𝛽‑arrestin mediated signaling can give the side effect, and vice versa for other GPCRs.
[00:06:43] — Suchibrata Borah:
What would be the potential of this research in, let’s say, revolutionizing the drug market?
[00:06:50] — Mithu Baidya:
So if we can design drugs which can selectively trigger either G Protein or 𝛽‑arrestin mediated signaling, you know, we can actually treat diseases with minimal side effects. So this is the aim in the field really, and this is a concept, what we call as bias signaling in the field. And the drugs that will be coming out will be the second generation or next generation of drugs, will be called bias drugs, and that will revolutionize the industry really.
[00:07:20] — Suchibrata Borah:
Wow. Having drugs with lesser or minimal side effects will be a blessing for humankind. As we all know that many times, people after recovering from a disease, again have to deal with these side effects thereafter. So hope that happens soon. So, Mithu, the most influential person in a researcher’s life is the mentor. In fact, because a student and a mentor spend so much time together during Ph.D. or postdoc, they change many qualities and sometimes become a reflection of each other. You also mentioned the support you received from your mentor, PI Arun Shukla. How do you see a PI’s role in a postdoctoral fellow’s research life?
[00:08:03] — Mithu Baidya:
I think they have because they are the captain of the ship, really, and in my case, I jumped onto a very young ship, knowing fully that he has very high potential. And I think I’ll reflect on my relationship with my mentor, and then we can like talk about what can be an ideal mentorship for a postdoctoral fellow. So, when I joined Arun, I found him as a very, very dynamic individual and, you know, I can see, I mean, as working in his lab for the last five years, I can see a discernible change in my way of thinking and my career graphic. So, and I owe a lot of it to Arun, in fact, because he always, you know, he’s very focused on the questions that we’ll be trying to answer on a limited time because there is a global competition in the field that we have to realize and the amount of resources that we have has to put into good use. So, you know, he is a very good manager, time manager, as well as resource manager. And more importantly, you know, the way he manages his human resource because we know that this question is important and multiple groups might be working on this. So, he knows how to manage people and human resources, and then stay focused on the story so that he can finish it in the limited time. And that requires a lot of grit and focus. And I think Arun has plenty of it. And this is what I think that I also can take along, a part of it, I can take along with me, and I feel that this could be very useful for any mentors. For example, you know, to remain true and committed to the questions that you are asking and to believe in your students, that you know they can deliver on time and have a very, you know, open environment where you can put out your concerns or for example, your ideas on the table and you see that the PI sitting at the other side of the table takes it equally seriously, to your views and your visions. So I think this is, I mean, what I have really enjoyed or like I really liked in Arun, and I think he’s just a fantastic mentor, a mentor that any postdoctoral fellow should, you know, aspire to have one.
[00:10:36] — Suchibrata Borah:
No doubt about that. It is super important to have a good PI who understands their team’s emotional and professional well-being. Mithu, when it comes to doing a postdoc in India, what are your thoughts and what are some opinions on the Indian postdoctoral ecosystem?
[00:10:56] — Mithu Baidya:
Okay, so being an optimistic person, I believe that you know, the postdoctoral environment in India has considerably improved. And I am a glowing example of it really, all through my career, I received the National Postdoctoral Fellowship or the Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship and currently Wellcome Trust Early Career Fellowship, all was like, you know, all this kind of funding that a postdoctoral student can have as a financial support, you know, to run their research in India is so very important, and I think India has done considerable improvement now we have a very conducive environment, and the postdoctoral research is only going to surge in future. And people, I mean, there are very good mentors who have come back, or we have currently in India who knows how to, you know, lead a team both with postdoctoral and doctoral students together, and they are contributing a lot in their respective fields.
[00:12:07] — Suchibrata Borah:
Having said that, are there any biases one faces after doing a postdoc in India instead of doing the same overseas?
[00:12:15] — Mithu Baidya:
The only concern that I have or I felt through my journey was when we go for a job interview, in a few of the places, in fact, the number could be minuscule, but people do have concerns, the recruiters do have a concern that you know, I don’t want to say this is a prejudice, but they have a prevailing notion that people who do postdoctoral from abroad from very well known institutes, or Ivy colleges, for example, are better off. So that actually, you know, hurts people who are trying to do good or very competitive research in India and want to build their career working, are doing our postdoctoral studies in India. But I feel that this will gradually, you know, go away because the Indian postdoctoral scenario is changing, and people are only doing well. So I think there will be a climax point when other people will also realize and the owners somehow, you know, the owners of changing this mindset remain with the premier institutes of India. You know, when they start believing in Indian post-doctorates and recruit them as faculty in their institute, that people see that, you know, they can do good research and establish themselves in the field, I mean, the rest of the institutes will follow and emulate this trend. So I think this is just a matter of time and this will fade away soon.
[00:14:28] — Suchibrata Borah:
I’m sure this scenario will improve or change over time, and people will only focus on the work done rather than where it is done. Thank you so much, Mithu, for joining us today and sharing your work and opinions.
This is the end of today’s podcast. You heard Mithu Baidya, a post-doctoral fellow at IIT Kanpur. It’s time to wind up this episode, but not the season of Radio PDF. Until the next episode, stay tuned to IndiaBiospeaks on your favorite podcasting platforms.
This season of Radio PDF is produced by Ananthapadmanabhan together with IndiaBioscience and edited and mixed at Scicle Podcast productions.
[00:15:06] — Outro:
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