Days Of Motivation And Science - Arghyashree Roychowdhury
Bioscience had fascinated me since as long as I can remember. Therefore, after
completing my 12th standard in 2003 from the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary
Education, I took admission in Asutosh College under the University of Calcutta for my
Bachelors in Zoology with Chemistry and Botany as my minor subjects. I joined the
Ballygunge Science College, University of Calcutta for my Masters in Zoology after
successfully obtaining my bachelor’s degree in 2006.
From the very beginning of my master’s course, I had a dream of pursuing my career as
a researcher abroad. So, in order to gain experience, I joined as a trainee in the Indian
Institute of Chemical Biology, Jadavpur, Kolkata and worked there from March 2009 till
February 2010 under Dr. Ashok Kumar Giri.
The laboratory at IICB, Kolkata, was involved in studying toxic genomic aspects of
arsenic induced carcinogenesis. Several candidate genes were identified for having Single
Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNPs) and were found to have been associated with the disease of
arsenocosis. My work aimed to identify hotspot regions in p53, a tumour suppressor gene
from the cancerous tissues of arsenic exposed population by PCR sequencing, mRNA
expression followed by western blot analysis. Results yielded from this study were coupled
with cytogenetic analysis (Micronuclei and chromosomal aberration studies) of the
lymphocytes, buccal and urothelial cells of affected patients.
Dr. Giri recommended me so that I could apply abroad but my thirst of gaining some
more experience as a trainee had not yet been fulfilled. Consequently, I joined Prof.
Maneesha S Inamdar’s laboratory as a Junior Research Fellow (Research Assistant) at
Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore,
Karnataka, India, from March 2010 to July 2013.
My work at JNCASR involved studying the functions of one of the novel genes, asrij,
an endocytic molecule using Drosophila as a model system. This gene is conserved in
vertebrates including humans (Ovarian Carcinoma Immunoreactive Antigen Domain).
Drosophila has served as an excellent model organism to decipher mechanisms involved in
innate immune response. Asrij also helps in maintaining the hematopoietic stem cell niche in
the lymph gland mediated by several signalling pathways. Fly hematopoiesis is anything but
a simple model to study leukemia. During the course of my research, I mastered many
techniques required for studying genetics and cell biology of Drosophila.
I gained extensive research experience in this field for more than three years at
JNCASR, which materialized into three research papers that were successfully published in
renowned journals such as Cell Reports, PNAS and Nature Scientific Reports. Throughout my time in Bangalore, Prof. Inamdar supported and encouraged me to follow my dreams and I
shall always be indebted to her for that. I left Bangalore in October 2013 and came back to Kolkata as I am a permanent
resident of the city. I remained there till September,2014 when I got the wonderful
opportunity of joining the IBMC- Institut de biologie Moleculaire et Cellulaire at Strasbourg
in France. Nobel laureate Prof. Jules Hoffman was an Emeritus Professor there. He and I had originally met back in Bangalore when he was on a scientific visit to deliver the Linus Pauling lecture at JNCASR. During his lecture, Prof. Hoffmann elaborated the history of immune response in the Drosophila and the subsequent discoveries done in his lab. This intrigued me to explore the field more and I conveyed my desire for joining his team to Prof Hoffmann during a chat. I strongly believed that this laboratory would provide the right environment and expertise for me to use my research skills for a meaningful contribution in
the field of Cancer Immunology, and was elated when he later offered me an opportunity to
complete my PhD there under his and Dr. Akira Tajima Goto’s joint supervision. My PhD
was financially supported by Centre Franco-Indien pour la Promotion de la Recherche
Avancée (CEFIPRA), from where I successfully obtained a research fellowship for three years.
In 1996, while studying fruit flies with mutations, Prof. Hoffmann had showed that the
so-called Toll-gene was active in the development of receptors which were crucial for the
immune system of the fly, which got him the Noble Prize in 2011. During his many invited
lectures, he had met various research teams working on Drosophila as a tumor model system.
In their discussion with him, the respective research teams mentioned the induction of
immune molecules such as Anti-Microbial Peptides (AMPs) in their tumor system, notably
that of Diptercin, one of the immune effectors in the flies. In the process of conducting a
thorough review of relevant literature, I came across a few biological reports highlighting the
antitumor immune response in Drosophila that seemed to offer a new research avenue in a
model that relied solely on innate immunity. Notably, we are presently aware that mammals
require both innate and acquired immunity for immunosurveillance of neoplastic growth.
Although still fragmentary, the data available in the literature on insects, point to a potential
reaction between signaling pathways of the immune system and the tumor cells. Building on
these data from literature and the well-recognized expertise of the host laboratory in the field
of fly immunity, we decided to establish a fly cancer model as well as to study the potential
role of the core immune-signaling pathways in anti-tumor reactions. Knowing that the genetic
mechanism of tumorigenesis itself in Drosophila had been well covered in other laboratories,
I focused upon deciphering the response of the fly immune system to such tumors in the
course of my research and finally submitted by thesis with success. Prof. Hoffman’s valuable
guidance enhanced and enriched not only my thesis but also my ideas about Science. I shall
forever be grateful to him for providing me with a chance to learn from him. The results of
my research work were recently in PNAS (https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2100825118) . I would also
like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the immense support of my lab-mates and
friends during my stint at Strasbourg, without which it would have been difficult for me to
complete this journey. Strasbourg, the city shall always be my second home after Kolkata.
Combining these domains of my research experience and my personal motivation
towards working on complex diseases to aide in development novel therapeutics, I recently
joined the lab of Professor Ross L. Cagan, at the Wolfson Wohl Cancer Research Institute,
Glasgow to reach my potential as a cancer biologist. The Cagan-laboratory uses Drosophila
to understand the biology of complex diseases such as breast, thyroid, and colorectal cancer
as well as rare Mendelian diseases like RASopathies and Taupathies by modelling genetic
complexities in flies. These models exhibit disease severities to secondary mutations and
show unpredictable drug responses. Personalized fly avatars created based on real patient
data showed huge success to a platform that formed the basis of fly to bed-side clinical trial.
My aim is to create Drosophila Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma (ACC) models to understand the
biology of this rare form of cancer that originates in the human salivary glands and thereafter
explore novel therapeutics.
It is common knowledge among the academic community that PhDs can be very
stressful, and I was no exception to that rule. Little failures often hit us harder than success
and we tend to overlook the later. I did lose my motivation and self-confidence a number of
times during this phase. However, since I met Prof. Cagan, I have realized the value of a
great mentor. He has not only infused my love for research back in me but also inspires me
every day to become a better person in this competitive world. I am in the process of learning
from my mistakes and consider them as silver linings in evolving as a more mature scientist.
The pandemic that we are all in together has certainly created hurdles in my life just like it
has affected every human being across the world. Surviving in a new country in the midst of
this crisis has obviously not been easy. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm Prof. Cagan and my
other colleagues have towards life in general, and science in particular, has been life-altering
for me. Despite being apprehensive of what the future may hold for me, I have faith that my
journey ahead will be exciting and enjoyable in the company of these brilliant scientists and
Ms. Arghyashree Roychowdhury
She has obtained her PhD degree from the University of Strasbourg, France with specialization in Cancer Immunology. She is a post-doctoral researcher at the Wolfson Wohl Cancer Research Institute, University of Glasgow (https://www.gla.ac.uk/researchinstitutes/cancersciences/ics/facilities/wwcrc/) . She has published research articles is several peer reviewed journals.