In this edition of BIRDIE voices, we meet Dr. Vivek Damodar Ranjan, a postdoc in the group of Dr. Franck Halary at Nantes Université whose research is directed towards using tubulo-interstitium in vitro models to discover new biomarkers for use in virology and drug discovery. Vivek is not only an invested researcher, he is also passionate for science communication and has a biomaterials science blog where he writes about new scientific discoveries.
Vivek started his research career studying mechanical engineering at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore, with a specialization towards 3D printing. ― It was through 3D printing that I made the shift into tissue engineering and biofabrication, to use my experience in engineering techniques to advance biology, Vivek explains. After his Master’s program, Vivek went on to do a PhD focused on 3D cell culture and neural tissue engineering with the goal of developing a 3D in vitro model for Alzheimer’s disease.
― My work was based on making 3D scaffolds and there was no translational research component involved, so the opportunity to combine 3D cell culture with microfluidic chips and perfusion dynamics was what really made me interested in this project, Vivek continues.
Vivek describes the transition from engineering to biology as a huge shift at first. ― I had never held a pipette before or worked with cell cultures, he explains. ― In the beginning of my PhD, it was a bit hard, but I also learnt a lot every day and became more comfortable with the biology aspect over time, Vivek says. If his PhD project began in engineering and moved more and more towards biology, starting to work in the BIRDIE project was taking a step closer to his engineering background. ― Now I am in a more interdisciplinary environment in the interface between engineering and biology, which is where I wanted to be in the first place, Vivek continues.
Vivek’s role in the BIRDIE project is to develop in vitro renal tubul interstitium using microfluidic chips and to compare how the cells in the model behave under both stationary and dynamic conditions, when fluid shear stress is applied. ― Once the model is built, Vivek explains, the second step will be to apply it in nephrotoxicity studies to discover biomarkers that can be used in drug discovery. The final step in Vivek’s part of the project will be to apply the same model to study BK virus infection, a virus commonly associated with patients that have had a kidney transplant, to research viral infection biomarkers.
― I am really looking forward to seeing how the cells will behave under fluid shear stress, which is similar to the conditions inside the body, and to see if there are clear differences in morphology and gene expression compared with static cultures, Vivek explains.
Vivek describes himself as a generalist in terms of finding inspiration to do research, his enthusiasm for science often comes from seeing the bigger picture. As such, an important goal for him is being part of a project that can transition from the research laboratory to actual applications, creating in vitro models that can replicate what happens in the body has the capacity to replace animal models in virology and drug development.
― That would be the ultimate result of the combined work that we are doing over the course of these four years, Vivek concludes.