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About the Institute

Profile of Joydeep Mukherjee

Dr. Joydeep Mukherjee

Dr. Joydeep Mukherjee, PhD

  • Post-doctoral Fellow, Cell Biology

Where are you from? Where did you study?
I was born in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), which is located in the state of West Bengal in India. I attended the University of Calcutta where I received my undergraduate degree as well as my Master’s and PhD.

What are you researching right now?
I am a brain cancer researcher. My particular area of interest at the moment is in glioblastoma multiforme (GMB). These tumours are particularly aggressive and usually lead to death at a rapid rate – 12 to 14 months in adults.

I am working with another fellow on a CIHR-funded research project to gain a better understanding of the micro-environment of tumours with special emphasis on angiogenesis (the process by which blood vessels grow into tumours and supply them with the nutrients they need to expand), apoptosis (programmed cell death) and metabolism. These particular tumours have two distinct geographic areas which express genes in different ways. The centre part of the tumour has cells which are surviving and multiplying in rather extreme circumstances – with little oxygen or nutrients. They have a high resistance rate and lead to cell migration to the outer part of the tumour. The second region is the peripheral part of the tumuor where the cells are moving outward and invading the surrounding area of the brain.

We hope through our research to better understand these micro-environments and why the cells in these two areas behave the way they do and then develop ways to slow or completely stop these cells from multiplying, invading and migrating, thus destroying the cancer.

Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
Har Gobind Khorana. His work on the interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis revolutionized the understanding of transfer of genetic message from DNA to protein. He was also the first to produce oligonucleotides, which are chains of nucleotides. These portions of synthetic genes are extensively used in research for sequencing, cloning and engineering new plants and animals. He was also the first person to segregate DNA ligase, an enzyme that connects sections of DNA together. Dr. Khorana was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1968.

What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
I would have to say that the 1953 discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick is the most important breakthrough. This discovery revolutionized they way we think of disease and gave us an understanding – at the genetic level – of the cause of disease and the minute alterations of our DNA that cause disease. It took the scientific community and research to a whole new level.

What are your major interests outside the lab?
While I do not have a lot of free time at the moment, I do have many interests outside the lab. I enjoy listening to music and have rather eclectic taste, ranging from the music of my mother’s generation – the Beatles and Cliff Richard – to the more mellow sounds of Bob Marley, Harry Belafonte and John Denver, to the more contemporary and harder sounds of Nirvana.

I also love to travel. While I enjoy a visit to a beautiful city, my true interest as a biologist, is nature. When I was still in India, I would often try and spend time in nature and visited the tiger and crocodile sanctuaries as well as took trips through the mangroves. I have not had the opportunity to travel much since arriving in Canada but I plan to get back to nature at the first opportunity.

Why science?
From a very young age, I have always been curious. As a child, I always asked my partents, “why?” and I could not help but take apart and study everything I could get my hands on. I broke a lot of toys growing up. Though I excelled in all aspects of school, it was the sciences that I most enjoyed. I like the logic of science and the opportunity to observe. I had one teacher who particularly influenced me. He used to take me to visit bird sanctuaries and introduced me to the work of Salim Ali, a world famous ornithologist from India. By grade 12 I had zoned in on my passion, genetics and molecular biology.

I would also have to say that my mother was a very positive influence on me. She encouraged me academically and wanted me to pursue a life of science. She felt that a research background would suit me with my quest for knowledge. My mother also helped to lead me to cancer research. While pursuing my Master’s degree, I lost a close relative to cancer. He was only 35 years of age with a young family and he lost his life within a span of two months. I took this loss quite hard and began to question the futility of research. My mother and my master’s supervisor at the time bring me back on track and convinced me that rather than give up, I could use my background and knowledge to become a cancer researcher and make a difference for others.

Why SickKids?
While completing my PhD it became clear to me how important it was for me to broaden my education and learn more about advanced research. I began to research opportunities for post-doctoral cancer research in North America. I had several locations of interest to me, one of them being the Brain Tumor Research Centre at SickKids. I investigated Drs. Ab Guha and James Rutka and the research being done at their centre. Coincidentally, Dr. Guha was hosting a neuro-oncology conference in India. I was lucky enough to present at that conference and had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Guha. I expressed my interest in post-doctoral research in North America and he encouraged me to apply once I had completed my PhD. In the end, I had to choose between two opportunities, one at Johns Hopkins University and one at SickKids. Having researched both the institutions and their lead researchers, I chose SickKids. Dr. Guha had a more diverse and established lab and he was emerging as a world leader. I also felt that the Brain Tumor Research Centre had a lot to offer both in terms of the broad areas and quality of the research. After a few minor delays, I arrived at SickKids on May 17, 2004.

What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
The cancer stem cell hypothesis is the hottest and controversial topic in my field of research. In the case of solid tumours, intra-tumoural heterogeneity at the genetic and epigenetic level exists resulting in difference in functionality and can be referred to as a different clone within the same tumuor. More over tumour cells have uncontrolled proliferative potential, similar to self renewal property of stem cells. As a result identification and characterization of cancer stem cell is very important before interpreting anything on a biological as well as therapeutic outcome.

May 2009