What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
Broadly, my current focus of research is to understand how the bone marrow microenvironment regulates the fate of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Although this question has been a long-standing one and I have been chasing it since my doctoral days, there are still no clear answers as to what cues govern the functionality of the HSCs. Hence, I have continued to pursue this line of work. Currently, my team is working on understanding whether priming of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) using signaling modifiers could expand HSCs for HSC-based therapies and further improve their therapeutic properties for other MSC-based therapies. Such priming strategies could lead to the rejuvenation of HSCs and MSCs, which could have interesting implications in aging-related HSC disorders as well as in leukemia. Besides this work, my lab is also interested in uncovering the regenerative properties of the MSC secretome, especially the extracellular vesicles, in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. The most rewarding aspect of my work is its ever-dynamic nature. Each day has its own sets of challenges and solutions. There is no room for boredom.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
I had a flair for science since my school days and I knew since then that I would opt for a career in science. However, unlike most of my fellow peers, I never planned to become a scientist pursuing stem cell research until even after obtaining a Master’s degree. Hence, I would say that my association with stem cell research was more of serendipity when I was selected to work on a project in Dr. Vaijayanti Kale’s lab at National Centre for Cell Science, Pune, India.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
To look at new data and try to make sense of it. Most of the time you do not understand what is going on. You end up scratching your head, having long inconclusive discussions with your students. Then one fine day, everything seems to make sense. That is what keeps me excited and motivated.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
I would say, “Cultivate the art of patience and care”. My lab works with primary cells that are challenging to isolate and grow. Hence, one must be patient and observant while handling the cell cultures. There is nothing as exciting as seeing healthy-looking cells gleaming at you.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
For the last 18 years since I first stepped into this exciting area of stem cells, Dr. Vaijayanti Kale, my PhD supervisor has been a constant source of motivation for me. I had my baby during the final year of my PhD tenure and without her unconditional support and inspiring words; it would not have been possible for me to gain a doctoral degree. Today, we work as colleagues but her knowledge in the field of experimental hematology and allied areas of stem cell biology constantly reminds me that I still have so much to learn, observe, and understand.
How do you spend your free time?
I love to cook, explore good food and wine, and take long walks. Music is a vital part of any activity that I do during my free time.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
I am not comfortable sharing facets of my life on social media. However, I love being around real people and talking to them. I also like to meet new people and I make friends quite easily.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
ISSCR has been a valuable platform for me in several ways. I have had the opportunity to read about stem cells, from basics to recent advances (Resources, News and Publications); share and discuss knowledge on stem cells (Meetings and Events); get to know about the institutes and people that are at the forefront in stem cell research (Circle of Stem Cell institutes and Centre Directors) and for networking that could translate into future collaborations (Member Spotlight).