We’re taking time to get to know the members of the GSA’s Early Career Scientist Committees. Join us to learn more about our early career scientist advocates.
Abhinava K. Mishra
Career Development Subcommittee
University of California, Santa Barbara
Since my early childhood, I have been fascinated by curiosity-driven science. More so, I perceived natural science as a logical interpretation of some of my artistic pursuits. Hence, despite scoring the highest marks in mathematics, I chose to pursue higher studies in biology. The influence of my schoolteachers and growing up in an academic environment were additional catalysts that cemented my decision. I must say, this decision was the beginning of a very thrilling, adventurous, and fulfilling experience.
In my graduate research, I studied cellular homeostasis by cross-talk of multiple signaling pathways. Cells are social entities, as their physiological existence is based on their communication with neighboring cells via signal transduction. The relatively simple outlook of a signal transduction pathway is fine-tuned to attain a specific developmental output. Several pathway-specific regulators control the specificity and longevity of a signal through various mechanisms, including signal cross-talk. During my doctoral work at Banaras Hindu University in India, I used the Drosophila model to identify many novel interacting partners of the Notch signaling pathway, such as TRAF6, Misshapen, Importin-a3, and Chip. TRAF6 and Misshapen are components of NF-kB and JNK signaling pathways in flies and mammals. I further elucidated the functional significance of these interactions by using genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology approaches. These studies identified TRAF6 and Misshapen as nodes of cross-talk among Notch, NF-kB, and JNK signaling pathways. Understanding these interactions and their developmental output provides better insight into cellular homeostasis and identifying pathway-specific drug targets for various human diseases such as inflammatory autoimmune diseases and cancer.
During my postdoctoral training in Denise Montell’s lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara, my work in Drosophila border cells unraveled a previously unidentified role of myosin in cell communication during collective chemotaxis. This study demonstrates that distinct and dynamic pools of myosin II regulate protrusion dynamics within and between collectively migrating cells and suggests a new model for the role of protrusions in collective direction sensing in vivo. Understanding the protrusion dynamics in collectively migrating cells provides further insights into cellular behaviors during developmental morphogenesis or disease conditions such as cancer metastasis.
My ongoing research aims to understand how cells coordinate the activities of cytoskeletal regulators in time and space to promote cell migration or engulfment in different contexts. Cells utilize the same cytoskeletal regulators to control cytoskeleton dynamics during cell motility and engulfment. The long-term goal of my research is to understand how cells decide to choose one behavior over the other and how these choices can lead to pathological conditions.
As a PhD-trained scientist, you have many career options. What interests you the most?
As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to interact with and motivate young students to pursue a career in science. As a result, several of my mentees are now pursuing PhDs and motivating the next generations towards research. Hence, I envision myself leading a research group that benefits society either directly, by engaging in basic and applied research, or indirectly, by mentoring young researchers to pursue a career in science. During the recent challenging times of COVID-19, I realized that, as scientists, we need to contribute collectively and sometimes race against time to realize the translational value of basic curiosity-driven research. For example, in my research, I use Drosophila as a model organism to study many cell behaviors. We found a potential clinical application of our study in enhancing existing immunotherapies. We have partnered with an industry to develop this into further treatments, and they have successfully raised funding and created a subsidiary start-up on this work. Hence, while I am inclined toward basic research in an academic setup, my training has exposed me to a system that can be efficiently utilized to bridge the gaps between basic and translational research. I am interested in building a research career where I can not only lead academic research, but also delve into and navigate an entrepreneurial pursuit.
In addition to your research, how do you want to advance the scientific enterprise?
I was recently an interlocutor for a Career Exploration Panel discussion at the Drosophila conference, organized by the Career Development Subcommittee of GSA. The discussion revolved around how several industries can integrate basic research by partnering with universities/academic institutions or by developing incubation centers to bridge the gaps between basic science and translational research. Having many scientists engaged in basic research will create a more structured and collaborative environment involving multidisciplinary, highly specialized teams from academia and industry, thereby helping realize a real-world translational impact. Such initiatives can open avenues for increased funding and even new job opportunities for early career researchers within the academic setup. Such endeavors require the collective effort of academic, industry, and science policy leadership.
I attended a science policy workshop series by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, where I gained substantial knowledge of how the science works on the other side of the bench, and learned about budgeting, appropriations, and policies. As a basic science researcher who just transitioned into translational studies, I am aware that there is an immediate need for an effective science policy that balances funding for both these research arms. In the future, I plan to engage in meaningful discussion with stakeholders from academic administration, funding agencies, industry partners, and government regulatory bodies on formulating strategies that are tailored to the interests of early career researchers. A firsthand discussion with these groups will provide insight into commercial aspects of training and research that need to be integrated to make genetics and cell biology training and research “pan-disciplinary” in the future. We critically need a discussion on how a successful industry-academia partnership can help turn discoveries into innovations and generate an entrepreneurial ecosystem helpful to academic researchers. In addition, I would like to engage with early career researchers in discussing the potential of genetics-based academic research and training in addressing pressing issues that are currently the focus of major industries.
As a leader within the Genetics Society of America, what do you hope to accomplish?
As an active member of the Genetics Society of America for the past few years, I have gained enormous benefits in various avenues of my professional career. Hence, I would like to give back to the community and further the GSA mission. Much of the basic aspect of my research is focused on using model organisms such as Drosophila. The recent funding cuts by National Human Genome Research Institute and National Institute of Health have seriously hampered the ability of several model organism databases—such as FlyBase, WormBase, and Saccharomyces Genome Database—to run smoothly. As a leader within the Genetics Society of America, I have actively participated in and encouraged peers to engage with NIH to advocate sustained funding to maintain model organism databases, which are valuable resources to the genetics community. They are helpful for experienced researchers and are excellent resources for undergraduate researchers to develop hypothesis building, experimental design, data analysis, and interpretation skills. Through my GSA responsibilities, I will continue making efforts to protect these databases in the future.
As one of the early career researchers of South Asian descent in the United States, I believe that representing all races, ethnicities, genders, colors, sexual orientations, nationalities, religions, and socioeconomic positions is a prerequisite for the holistic growth of the scientific community. Therefore, I make every effort to use inclusive language and cite the work of researchers from underrepresented groups within academia. As a leader within GSA, I hope to normalize these practices among the broader scientific community. I have honed my team-building, team-playing, public speaking and engagement, and networking skills during my time at GSA so far. Using these skills, I hope to network and build relationships with scientists from leading industries and engage with them in discussing how model organisms-based research can be successfully translated from bench to bedside.
I consider knowledge of science policy to be essential for informed researchers to serve the scientific community and the general public. This knowledge drives not just day-to-day science in the labs, but also the rationalization and compartmentalization of funding towards basic and translational research, the transformation of discoveries into innovations, the generation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and maintaining public and environmental health. During the COVID-19 period, I realized that effective science policy and its administration are prerequisites for mitigating the ongoing pandemic and any future calamity. Using the GSA platforms, I would also advocate for the importance of basic science funding in public and scientific spaces and with policy stakeholders.
Previous leadership experience
- Organized and moderated the Workshop Wednesday series “Finance and digital health careers in biotech and pharma industries” workshop (March 8, 2023)
- Organized and moderated the virtual “Career Exploration Panel” at the 64th Annual Drosophila Research Conference (Feb. 27, 2023)
- Organizer/interlocutor for the Workshop Wednesday series, “Scientists with a career outside the lab” (Aug. 10, 2022)
- Organizer/interlocutor for the “Career Exploration Panel” at the 63rd Annual Drosophila Research Conference (April 6-10, 2022)
- Ambassador for The American Society for Cell Biology (Nov. 2021-present)
- Associate Editor: 1. Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine (Dec. 2021-present) 2. 3 Biotech (Biomedical/Medical Biotechnology section) (Jan. 2022-present) 3. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine (July 2022-present)
- Assistant Editor: Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology (Applied Biotechnology for Diagnosis and Therapeutics section)
- Editorial board member: 1. All Life (Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology section) (Nov. 2021-present) 2. Current Tissue Microenvironment Reports (Cancer Immunotherapy section) (Jan. 2022-present)
- Mentorship for California Alliance for Minority Participation Summer Research program (July 2017-Aug. 2017)
- Member of the GSA Awards Audit Focus Group and ASCB focus group