It was our pleasure to interview Vinita Chittoor. Her eagerness to contribute to the biotech community in every possible way truly inspires us. Read her interview about her research about neurodegenerative diseases and her journey as a researcher of our field!
1. You started with a bachelors in Biotechnology from Mumbai University and you’re currently pursuing Post Doctoral training in Neuroscience at Stanford University. Can you tell us about this process of narrowing down to your interest through your journey?
There was no conscious effort to narrow down on any field. In fact, when I joined Graduate school, I was unsure of what field I would be pursuing. Further, these fields are very broad to be specific, they always intermingle at multiple points. I think I have followed the questions that interest me the most. The curiosity and eagerness to find answers to these questions are what drove me here.
2. Your career so far has been highly research oriented. What is it like to be a researcher in terms of work culture, opportunities, funding and resources?
I feel it’s a different culture, on its own. The work culture mainly depends on the mentor and the mentee. In my experience, there is some freedom to the mentee in designing the experiments. However, combined decisions of the mentor and the mentee determine the course of the project. Opportunities are plenty in research, provided you are flexible to trying out different options to find your niche. All projects that you work need not necessarily interest you. But you have to try various things to figure that out. Funding is partly dependent on the research topic and more importantly on how you present the questions you want to investigate. I believe that the overlaps between the fields in biology can play a crucial role in applying and securing funding from appropriate sources. Apart from the federal agencies, there are various foundations which provide support for research towards specific diseases. Resources would be mainly dictated by the institution where you conduct your research. However, there is always an option of collaborating with researchers outside your institution which potentially expand your resources. Researchers who invest in expensive equipment are generally very welcoming of such collaborations.
3. You have been actively involved in research about how diet can affect a neurodegenerative disease?
Diet plays a very crucial role in determining our health. Although the sentiment that proper nutrition can help in preventing illnesses is valued, little is known about how diet can aid in managing diseases. Recently, the gut-brain axis is being increasingly appreciated. It emphasizes that what you eat alters the gut microbiota which can moderate neurological homeostasis. This has excited many investigators working in the field of inherited neurological disorders. On this line, my most recent paper shows that altered intake of the dietary amino acids can have huge impacts on age-related Parkinson’s Disease (PD) symptoms (Chittoor-Vinod et al., 2020). We did majority of this work using the Drosophila genetic model of PD, expressing the most commonly inherited G2019S mutation in LRRK2 protein. This fly model appropriately exhibits age-dependent decline in locomotion and specific dopamine neuron loss. With modified dietary amino acids consumption there is a significant delay in the onset of these phenotypes. This is the first attempt to link dietary amino acids and LRRK2-linked PD neurodegeneration.
4. You have worked dedicatedly on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Can you tell us what motivated you to take these topics and elaborate more on those projects?
It’s always been the question. I was intrigued specifically by the delayed onset. Most neurodegenerative diseases surface only late in life, even if there is a genetic mutation involved. This piqued my interest in the field and I started my research towards understanding what changes occur with age that push disease manifestation.
5. As the author of multiple important research papers, and review editor of Frontier’s- how important is it to have open access to papers? There was a proposal sent to the Govt of India for a 2000 cr/year project to buy subscriptions of major journals to provide free content to researcher in our country. What do you think about this investment?
It is extremely important to have access to the published work. It births new hypotheses, saves time in protocol optimizations and brings new collaborations. I believe it is an essential and important initiative from the Government, crucial for the progress of research in India.
6. Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? Are there any specific projects that you are keen to pursue?
That’s always a difficult question to answer. For me, ability to continue doing research is an important part of my future. I believe there are a lot of interesting aspects of neurodegeneration yet to be revealed. I would like to pursue studying the interplay between aging and disease manifestation.
7. The BioTalk Magazine’s mission is to promote Biotechnology and build a community of students and professionals on one platform. We want students to learn and collaborate with those who have something to offer but not a way to reach out to these students. Is there any way you would be able to contribute to our mission- in the form of articles, workshops, opportunities, seminars?
Absolutely, yes. I believe magazines like The BioTalk are important to bridge the gaps between new aspiring students and professionals. I would be delighted to contribute in any way possible. I think it is a part of my duty to provide help and information to the students so they can make good choices towards their goals.