Principal Scientist, Central Drug Research Institute
I want to introduce [young girls] to real role models and show them that “if these women can attain why can’t they”?
What do you do?
I am an Endocrinologist by training and this area involves work on hormones. Specifically, I work on Metabolic Bone Disorders. In India, 50 million women suffer from osteoporosis and this also leads to fragility fractures later in life. My work mainly focuses on identifying novel drug targets, it could be a small molecule or could originate from natural source. At present there is only one anabolic agent (that forms bone) - the parathyroid hormone - that is FDA approved and in the market. It is very effective but poses challenges; it is injectable, expensive and has had a black box warning of osteosarcoma in rodents.
Why did you choose this field?
I studied organic chemistry in college. This subject always has more boys than girls in class and after college most of the boys decided to move to different industries. Having no scope to move industry, I was blessed to get an opportunity and got selected in a specialized tertiary medical institute the “Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences”(SGPGIMS) Lucknow for a Ph.D.
It was a testing time for me to explore my organic chemistry background and amalgamate with areas like Nuclear Medicine and Endocrinology as it involved lots of chemistry principles. I had a turning point to move from Chemistry to Endocrinology and then began my journey in this field.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
Being independent was my only dream, but I did not know how to be. I clearly remember as a young girl, while going and coming from school, I was always fascinated by this big hoard outside a doctor's clinic and thought to myself when will I ever be able to do something that means I have my own name written in big fonts with all those degrees. In fact, while turning pages of the newspaper I often wished my name be there, although I knew, that neither was I a politician or a criminal who normally occupy space in print media. I can only say that I was a cocktail of contradictions as a teenager who wanted to do several things and wanted to wear multiple hats at one time.
I think it was my consistent efforts in science that fulfilled many dreams. My nameplate in my office door when I became an independent scientist in the year 2004 was equivalent to what I wished for and when the drug REUNION for rapid fracture healing and JOINT FRESH were launched from my lab, I thought them to be huge achievements and it was covered in all newspapers in India with my name, it fulfilled my other dream too albeit late in life.
I wish I had known this when I was young that passion, determination, confidence and consistent efforts in one direction drives you to where you want to be.
Why do you love working in STEM?
Navigating a fulfilling career in science is challenging but satisfying too; it is not mundane work that you do every day. Each day presents itself with new challenges. If you are creative it is very helpful as it helps you think of better and newer ways to tackle problems. On the flipside, when things are on track and you know that by doing these set of experiments you might reach to this point and start getting answers to those questions, science then surely becomes addictive.
Best advice for next generation?
I now want to help young girls and I am devoting a part of my life to these girls from formidable backgrounds who have taken up science at undergraduate level and do so well. I want them not to leave science because of several challenges in India including family responsibilities. Family responsibility, in India is linked to other challenges like physical mobility and educational attainment etc. It’s definitely not the grades but passion that takes you forward. I want to introduce them to real role models and show them that “if these women can attain why can’t they”? I definitely want to tell these young minds that if they get a chance to volunteer in one of the labs to experience the environment they should definitely do that.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
Not to keep things that happen in lab only as a laboratory affairs I also make small documentaries. One of the entire process of REUNION development is available here.