Catching Up with Fishman Fund Awardee Karthik Bodhinathan
Bodhinathan focuses his studies on the molecular basis of neurodegeneration—specifically, the molecules that regulate communication between neurons in the brain. He hopes to one day develop new medicines to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
We caught up with him recently to learn more about his postdoctoral work and his plans for the future.
Tell us a little bit about the difference between a research scientist, like yourself, and a physician?
I think both physicians and scientists are partners in a critical mission to save lives and improve the quality of life for people suffering from devastating diseases.
In my view, a physician’s mission is to comfort his patients, accurately diagnose their problem, and prescribe suitable therapeutics. A research scientist, in turn, is focused on the biological mechanisms of the disease. He or she attacks the biological problem behind a disease and designs new drug candidates and therapeutics. The search for new cures actually begins with the work of a research scientist.
If a scientist fails in his mission, it is bad news for both the physician and the patient, because those folks rely heavily on researchers to come up with cures.
What made you choose a focus on research?
Early on during my undergraduate studies, I realized that stepping into a laboratory filled me with a sense of excitement and curiosity. I still remember that while I was enrolled in a four-year undergraduate course in India, I used all my time outside the classroom to rush to the laboratory to spend time with accomplished research scientists and experimenters. The thrill of discovery led me to choose a career in research.
What about your studies/research fascinates you the most?
It is something that is hard to put into words. Like any profession there are ups and downs. I have been exhilarated by new discoveries and dejected by gut-wrenching setbacks. The one thing that keeps me going, despite the setbacks, is the prospect of discovering therapeutics for patients who are suffering from neurodegeneration and other brain disorders. I realize that my challenges are minuscule compared to the patients who are facing far more difficult circumstances in the hospitals and waiting with much hope for a cure. It is the possibility of helping those patients which motivates me the most about my research.
The other fascinating aspect of my work is the realization that understanding the human brain is the ultimate challenge for science. Hidden in this complex organ are the secrets to our distinct identity, creativity, emotions, memories, and desire to live. I think I am lucky to have a job that makes me think about these beautifully complex, yet fundamentally human, questions.
What are your plans once you complete your fellowship/postdoc program here?
After my training at Sanford-Burnham, I plan to get into a drug-discovery-focused environment. I believe that our Institute has the best resources to make a bold foray into identifying disease targets and coming up with new drug candidates. Being part of this environment continues to shape my ideas about discovering new drugs for devastating brain diseases. In the long run, I want to be part of a team of committed researchers whose sole mission is to focus on molecular pathways and come up with smart drugs.