Category Archives: Interviews


Covid19 pandemic has distanced us from nature and has
forced us to embrace the virtual world leading to mental stress and health
disorders. Even though medically advanced as compared to last century, we are
still ill-prepared for the pandemic of this scale that has done little in
saving lives. The world has moved to a new normal as it sees the end of the
lockdown in many countries, including ours. Many of us are excited by the end
of the lockdown in various regions of the country to rejoice with friends and
families in person (within the social distancing norms). However, the fear of
getting infected is confining us under extended periods of lockdown, as
suggested by the scientific community. The lockdown or self-isolation and
social distancing is a crucial measure in combating this deadly pandemic.





Further, this not only offers protection to us but our
elder generations in particular who are more prone to this illness. All of us
are battling inside and trying to do our best to accept the pandemic and its
future disasters, by making sure to stay physically and mentally sound in these
tough situations. We may notice changes in physical health among ourselves and
our loved ones and seek comforting attention when necessary. While we all experience
overgrowing stress due to lockdown and the new life adaptations, post lockdown,
which is shadowed during the everyday struggle.





Hence this interaction with Dr. Karishma Kulkarni might help
in finding answers on how to tackle the tectonic shifts in our mental and
physical health. She says that keeping ourselves busy and being organized and
not bringing negative thoughts could help us to manage this adverse situation. She
stresses to be vigilant and help the frontline workers for their selfless
contribution laying their lives at risk. Maintaining social distancing and
other safety precautions could help tide this difficult situation.





Sayali: As most of us are filling the gaps of being practically
social by spending time on social media and turning the social behavior norms
to virtual behavior adaptations, will this cause any effect on individual
patience level and stress management ability? How should one cope up with such
situation?





Dr. Kulkarni: Humans have not evolved
naturally to interact through screens. Our brains are designed to pick up on
social cues, including nonverbal behavior and body language in the
real world through face to face interactions. The pandemic necessitates
social distancing, and as a result, people have now begun interacting using
technology. The use of screens, though vital for people to stay in touch - does
not satisfy the need for physical presence that most of us have. Interactions
that are devoid of ordinary social cues might, therefore, be more anxiety-provoking
as they do not provide the same level of comfort or support. The best way to
cope with this scenario is to accept the limitations of social media and video
calls as compared to face to face interaction in settings as varied as personal
and professional ones. Often explicitly stating that there is awkwardness and
discomfort in 'virtual behavior' helps lighten the moment and acknowledges that
any social faux pas are to be expected with the virtual medium. This also helps
others be more patient with us and for us to be more patient with them. Of
course, at a future time point, there will definitely be opportunities to
interact in person again so the social skills we have evolved with will still
be important. Man is a social animal for sure.





Sayali: "Starting a new day with new hopes"
was one of the best positive attitude people carried. Since the lockdown all
days seems to be same, and most of us have changed the daily routine.
Unknowingly it has caused a change in cycle of circadian rhythm, causing a
change in behavior leading to be more stressed and disturbed/offensive
behavior, How can one control these negative emotions and not let this behavior
dominate?





Dr. Kulkarni: The best solution to this
to have a structure to one's day. Circadian rhythms have once again evolved
from the time when humans were dependent on nature for their biological cues -
sleeping at night and being active during the day. This becomes a lot harder to
do when there's nothing to wake up and do in the morning. Incorporating
physical activity such as a home exercise program, along with a fixed time
table for meals, for work (if working from home), for recreation (streaming
music or movies online) will be vital to maintaining these social rhythms. If
in lockdown at home with other family members - sharing meals at set times
would allow for a shared space to interact with others. Of course, creating a
routine is something which requires some discipline and cannot be done
strictly. But even a loose time table is better than no time table. The best
way to control negative emotions is through some relaxation exercises - yoga,
mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, Tai chi
are all practices that help with relaxation. Various apps and YouTube videos
can provide basic techniques of these practices. Of course, this also requires the
personal motivation to practice. If negative emotions and negative behavior
become too challenging to control - contacting professionals through a mental
health helpline may be another option. 





This
website provides a list of Indian mental health helpline numbers. 





https://www.unitedgmh.org/mental-health-support/india





Sayali: All the age groups are affected due to
lockdown, while the lockdown might create unnoticed effects on juvenile group
as they are being deprived from being social since schools and play times have
now turned into virtual time zone. How should the family work towards
motivating this age group towards social behavior and help them to overcome
physiological issues leading to anxiety, poor attention and frequent changes in
mood and emotions.





Dr. Kulkarni: The best way for children
and adolescents to cope with the absence of the social and educational
environment that school provides is to create a home school environment where
the parents or grandparents can provide one on one support as the child engages
in online teaching. Providing a gentle, supportive stance to this rather than a
strict one would be most useful for the child. Making time to play with the
child or adolescent - board games or even with toys or cards and including the
whole family in play will help to distract from the temptation of screens and
online video games. Screen time contributes to inattentiveness and listlessness
in children. It's one on one attention with reading books or doing arts and
crafts projects that help children build concentration as well as to develop
good sitting tolerance. Children depending on age level can be engaged in projects
such as home gardening or painting - these are excellent interventions to deal
with children's anxiety. Please remember to be patient with your young person.
It's possible that with positive attention, young people might remember this
lockdown as a time when they had maximum quality time with their
families. 





Sayali: What are the
effects of lockdown on youth, and how should one support him/herself while
feeling stressed or anxious during COVID-19?





Dr. Kulkarni: The effects of the lockdown
on the mental health of young people can vary depending on each individual.
More introverted persons might be able to engage themselves in hobbies such as
reading or art and enjoy this time while more extroverted young person's might
miss the company of their friends - feeling lonely and isolated. Overall, all
young people might react with some degrees of stress and anxiety along with
worry about the health of their parents and grandparents. The best way to
support one is to find a useful coping strategy. This can range from reaching
out and connecting with peers and friends through technology, taking up and
pursuing a new hobby, engaging in exercising, using relaxation techniques such
as yoga and meditation and if struggling with depression or uncontrollable
panic and anxiety - consulting a mental health professional will be helpful. 





Sayali: How should one help
him/herself towards crisis management and holding intact emotional balance?





Dr. Kulkarni: Identifying the triggers
for a crisis are the best ways to prevent a crisis. Making a crisis management
plan is another useful process. This plan might include - what are the
situations that trigger a crisis, what are the symptoms of being in a crisis,
what are the coping strategies that help with a crisis, who are the people that
act as supports in case of a crisis - friends, family, neighbors, doctor,
mental health professionals etc.





Acknowledging
that all of us can feel emotionally imbalanced from time to time is essential.
The best way to maintain a balance is self - care. Looking after oneself -
sleeping on time, eating balanced meals, regular exercise, routines, making
connections with family and friends and doing what you enjoy - eg. Eating a
piece of chocolate, playing a song on a guitar, watching a comedy film,
watching the sunset from the window. All these are important and help one stay
balanced. 





Sayali: Mental health,
stress and anxiety for essential workers (health care/scientist/ teachers) and
how should family and friends support them?





Dr. Kulkarni: At this time, those who are
on the frontline will be exposed to high levels of stress. This may be due to
heavier workloads, longer hours, anxiety about becoming sick, anxiety about
infecting family members, lack of self-care and recreation as well as the
vicarious trauma of seeing patients suffering from COVID. 





It
is essential to recognize that while work is important to prevent burn out -
self-care for essential workers is also crucial. This includes all the elements
described in response to the earlier questions. Adequate sleep, regular meals,
rest, recreation are all important and should be taken care of, guilt-free for
essential workers. The best way for families and friends to support their
essential workers would be to provide a listening ear, checking in on them,
understanding the need to stay apart from families due to their professional
role as well as to check if they need help with supplies or meals. Even just a
kind appreciative word goes a long way. 





Sayali: How important it is
to provide a mental health awareness post lockdown? What is your suggestion on
seeking mental health support for the one in need?





Dr. Kulkarni: Experts all over the world
agree that the mental health fallout and after-effects of lockdown will be part
of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. This makes preventative public
mental health strategies, such as raising awareness crucially. 





Most
mental health professionals continue to practice through the lockdown. Major
hospitals continue to provide emergency mental health services for those in
need. Trained counsellors and mental health professionals are available on
telephone helplines, as mentioned in response to an earlier question. It is
likely that telemental health will be the next most important method in
providing support for persons in need. 





Sayali: A word from you on the
significance of mental health in general, and note for people to support
friends or colleague seeking help.





Dr. Kulkarni: The World Health Organization
has defined health as a combination of physical, mental, social and spiritual
well-being. Mental health is thus a vital component of good health; however, it
is unfortunately often neglected or stigmatized. If you have a friend or
colleague seeking help, please do not treat them with stigma or discrimination.
Be patient with them and provide a listening ear to them. If you find that they
are beyond your help, please recommend them to seek advice from a professional
in a non-judgmental, respectful and caring manner. Though all of us have to
stay apart at present, it is still possible to be able to keep those you care
for, close. 





Closing
remarks:
We thank Dr. Karishma Kulkarni for accepting
our request and becoming part of this interaction. Her views are an eye-opener that
anyone could be an invisible warrior if philanthropic activities are taken up to
serve the nation at difficult times. Surely her thoughts will help many
thinking minds to stay strong and stable, as we all at some point are going
through storms of thoughts stressing us.





Dr.
Karishma Kulkarni, MBBS, MD (Psychiatry), MRCPsych (UK).





Principal Psychiatry Senior Registrar,





Northwestern Mental Health Services and
Melbourne Health, 





Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. 





(Educational background: Post Doctoral
Fellowship in Psychiatry from National Institute of Mental Health and
Neurosciences, Bangalore, Karnataka, India.





Post Graduate Diploma in Medical Law and
Ethics from National Law School of India University)


We need to train Ph.D. students to be thinkers and not just specialists, in particular, critical thinkers. In other words, just putting the philosophy back into the doctorate of philosophy, said Prof. Antonio Mazzocca, Faculty Member in the Interdisciplinary Department of Medicine at University of Bari School of Medicine in a tête-à-tête with Mr. Saketh Kapoor. He shares his opinions on strengthening the links between laboratories and the clinics. He divulges into his journey from identifying LPAR6 as a potential therapeutic target for hepatocellular carcinoma and briefly touches upon the importance of maintaining work-life balance.

SK: You chose an unconventional path and you decided to pursue research after medical school. How was the transgression from being an ‘MD doctor’ to being a Ph.D. doctor?

Thank you for your question. Well, the transgression was quite good and it turned out to be a valuable transgression in my professional life. I think that combining training in medicine and in research is an amazing experience in a scientist’s life. So I have to say that I am definitely happy to be a MD-Ph.D.

SK: Do you miss visiting a clinic or you enjoy being in the lab?

Well, actually I am not missing my clinical duty because I am still in connection with the clinics but I really really enjoy my work in the lab - as a scientist, of course.

SK: Although researchers are equipped with the biological questions and right techniques and methods to tackle them, it would not be an exaggeration to say that clinicians know the ‘real’ clinical dilemmas. Do you think that generating clinical collaborations would be a smarter and more effective way to understand disease biology?

Thank you for this particular question.  I think that collaborations are definitely important in science. I think that engaging clinicians in collaborative research works is very helpful and particularly in these days, especially to boost the systematic approach in biomedical research. So, this should be enough as a motivation to engage them. We really need a more systemic view and more integrative work as well as interdisciplinary work in research.

SK: Both, researchers as well as clinicians strive for the same goal – to improve the healthcare system. However, the methods we choose to achieve this goal are starkly different. What can spark the passion of doing basic science research in a clinician?

Well, I have to say that most of them are not really trained for doing that, I think we need to get them more involved in at least our work in the lab. This is absolutely important. At least, they could start enjoying the methodology in the lab. For example, just learning the basic methodology could somehow be of support for their activity in terms of knowledge. So at least they should know what we do, in order to strengthen the link between the laboratories and the clinics.

SK: Something that really caught my eye was the quote displayed on your publications tab on your webpage. It says “Imagination is more important than knowledge” - Albert Einstein. Although we agree that research is about passion, we more often end up following more protocols than our passion. How would you encourage researchers to inculcate creativity while pursuing their degrees?

As you said, following protocols rather than following passion seems to be the main attitude for the young investigators. We need to train Ph.D. students to be thinkers and not just specialists, in particular, critical thinkers. In other words, just putting the “Philosophy” back into the doctorate of philosophy. That’s what we need! So more critical thinkers than specialists.

SK: The current scenario in science is ‘publish or perish’. Do you think that in the near future translational research should be given more emphasis than scientific publications?

Since the translational research is present already, we should give more emphasis to good science which usually is slow science or doing pressure-free science. But this is not always possible since scientists are in a system which is driven by publish or perish pressure. Of course, scientific publications are extremely important to the scientific endeavor, so I think we should get less pressure in a system of publish or perish and do more slow science and much more good science.

SK: My friends across the globe agree that research life can best be enjoyed in European countries. While all countries are contributing significantly to research, why is the word ‘enjoyment’ associated mostly with European countries? Is there more to research than the research itself? The ambience for example or work-life balance?

Quite simply, I think that the work-life balance in European countries is ideal for research life because of the optimal compromise between the cozy ambience and the quality of life in many European towns or countries. I think this is the reason why research life in Europe is still appealing.

SK: Where have you come up with the best of ideas? In lab meetings/conferences, over a cup of coffee or with a bottle of beer with friends?!!

That’s a good question of course. Generally, brilliant ideas in science come to mind when you are more relaxed, maybe you are not in the lab, and you are involved in different activities, for example, running or walking or showering so why not over a cup of coffee or a tea or just having a beer with friends. Just the right time!

SK: International collaboration between labs can engage researchers to expedite contribution to science by utilizing their domains of the expertise. Diverse workplace environments and diverse minds to solve the same problem may also encourage innovation and problem-solving skills among students. To encourage such research culture, would you be open to collaborating with my home institute on some projects?

Absolutely, we need to encourage such a research culture by creating collaborative and interdisciplinary networks. The collaboration with your home institute has already started being you in my lab. So best of luck with our research!

SK: Researchers all over the world are working towards identifying biomarkers for various diseases. Your lab has been working on LPAR6, a biomarker for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). How was your journey from identifying LPAR6 as a potential biomarker to targeting it for treating HCC?

Of course, it is a long journey. Actually, we discovered LPAR6 as a factor involved in promoting and supporting tumorogenesis in HCC, so I think it could definitely be a theranostic target since it is accessible and druggable in addition to LPA which is significantly increased in patients with HCC.

CLOSING REMARKS: We thank Prof. Antonio Mazzocca for giving us an opportunity to have a splendid conversation. The interview was conducted during the research visit of Mr. Saketh Kapoor in Prof. Mazzocca's lab. If you wish to know more about Prof. Mazzocca's work, please visit http://www.antoniomazzocca.com/
“I really enjoy doing the simplest of simple things and this is one of the things one should learn. Even if you are in a smaller place and you have done one experiment like transformation and if you are looking forward to what happens to that experiment next morning, and you see the transformants on the plate, that enjoyment and excitement is really something that I live for” quoted Prof. Umesh Varshney when asked about what he enjoys the most about being a scientist.

Prof. Umesh Varshney, Molecular Biologist, at the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore visited the Yenepoya Research Centre (YRC), Yenepoya (Deemed to be University) on July 21, 2018 to deliver a guest lecture on “Initiation with the initiator tRNA”.

We, research fellows at YRC grabbed this opportunity to interact with him albeit informally(!) and asked him few questions other than mainstream science. So, in an interview with Saketh Kapoor, Gayathree Karthikkeyan and Rex DAB, Prof. Varshney shared his insights and experiences in scientific research today as well as his personal interests on the questions posed to him.

The first thing he expressed about how he enjoys interacting with his students. “Many a time I will have one view on something, the student will have another view and the kind of things that we can come up with discussion and the questions that we can ask, makes it really interesting, so let’s say, me and my student have different hypothesis, now how to distinguish between two hypotheses by designing simple experiments is interesting“ stated Prof. Varshney.

We also queried him about that one study which he is really fascinated about. However, the answer we received was not just one study but various studies which Prof. Varshney mentioned. He described the very first kind of suppressor that his team analyzed which fell into one carbon metabolism and how it affected the fidelity of protein synthesis. “We were asking a question that a tRNA, which is not really a bona fide initiator tRNA and we know it should not be allowed to initiate, but because of one mutation, it goes into a pathway which normally would not be connected with protein synthesis, that really becomes then interesting to solve that puzzle. So basically, much of the molecular genetics is about solving a puzzle. And it was the first of its kind, when we identified that methylations in rRNA are important in fidelity of selection of initiator tRNA. This study which was immediately published in EMBO journal. And more recently we are finding out that there is heterogeneity in the ribosomes that is again something very exciting for us to go ahead and resolve it”.



We further asked him the about the qualities a budding researcher must possess. To which he again cited the example of a transformation experiment that how much a student is motivated and excited to see the results of his experiment the very next morning. The other very important thing is that a person has to be very persistent and motivated. “I always give this example, let’s say, you went to do some hobby activities, and you have to pay for it. But here my hobby is to do research and at the same time I am getting paid for it. So that is one of the incentives a student who is getting into a research always gets. It’s like getting paid for what you love to do! So, this is the best profession to be in. Also, one should not get depressed or disappointed with one failed experiment because we may not be sure whether it’s a failure. Many a time we are going with our hypothesis and the results we are getting is not fitting into hypothesis, we start calling it as a failure. But one should always try to look for an alternate hypothesis which will explain this outcome and if there aren’t then one should always look whether if there are any technical flaws in what you did”.

We then discussed how important is it for a researcher to go abroad to get an experience from other countries. To which he replied, “The number of scientists that we have in our country is very limited and if you now start picking up a particular area that becomes even narrower. So, if you have an interest in a particular area and if there are facilities available elsewhere, one should always explore that. I would not take the approach that one should just work in the country rather than going abroad, instead, go abroad, learn the things and bring the technologies back to the country”.

Finally, the interview concluded on a lighter note where we asked what he likes to do when not doing research. “Well I like to do nothing!! Being a senior faculty at IISc, there are lots of administrative responsibilities as well, so much of my time goes in fulfilling those responsibilities also. However, having said that, I actually like doing some exercise like jogging, cycling, which have become very infrequent now, but I still try to do it once in a while”.

We thank Prof. Varshney for sharing his time and his experiences with us. We also hope that this transcript will help our readers to motivate themselves for doing science research or other fields/areas they wish to pursue in their lives.