Maneesha Inamdar is a scientist working in the very fashionable area of stem cells, as a professor at Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Vascular Biology at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore, and adjunct faculty at the nearby inStem (Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine)
She worked on the fruit fly for her PhD research at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Fundamental Research while her post-doctorate research was in cardiovascular biology at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, US. “During my search for a research project abroad, I wanted to work on an area closer to human biology and one which I could also pursue when I returned to India. The cardiovascular system was particularly attractive for its obvious relevance to human disease (heart disease being common). There was a new way to study it in the laboratory using stem cells.”
Stem cells isolated from early mouse embryos (embryonic stem cells [ESCs]) can form embryo-like structures called “embryoid bodies” (EBs) — they do what an embryo does to ensure further development and makes a functional cardiovascular system! “So we can have beating heart muscles and blood vessels with blood flowing in them, all in the petri dish,” says Maneesha. “We can also tinker with the cells to change the genes or proteins they make and study the effect, before going to expensive and time-consuming animal experiments. Later, this was also done with human embryo-derived cells and of course, that completely changed the field of stem cell research. Human EBs are the best model for human development.
Maneesha and her team are studying how the human cardiovascular system develops normally and what leads to defects in cardiac development and in-cardiac function in various heart diseases like myocardial infarction and cardiomyopathies using hESCs and also induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that initially can develop into different kinds of cells. In addition, they use transgenic and knockout mice and also fruit flies to help in these studies.
Maneesha feels research is fun. “The novelty, challenge and freedom that research gives is incomparable. It’s like trying to solve a new puzzle each time. If one is truly interested, one can enjoy it like a game. And the rewards are very real, as the knowledge gained can potentially affect human lives and medicine.”
She is emphatic when she speaks of her field. “Stem cell biology is a new area, yet it is already changing the way we treat patients. There is so much more to discover in this field that is going to stay current for a long time. With the emergence of regenerative medicine, there is a need for combining expertise in biology with medicine, engineering, physics, chemistry, mathematics and computation. So the opportunities are endless for choosing the approach and areas of one’s interest. And what’s more, while studying something important and relevant, you can travel the world, meet people and learn about various cultures,” she states.
Maneesha points out that this is not a career for those who want to get rich, “To me ‘having a life’ means enjoying what one does. My work lets me travel the world, meet people from all walks of life and adjust my schedule to accommodate my other interests. I have the freedom to not let my work consume all my time. I love reading and music,” she says. Maneesha has been in research for well over two decades. She says, “the freedom to pursue my ideas and dreams is priceless.”