Talitha Smith, Communications Officer in Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics (DPAG) interviews Pavandeep Rai, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist working in the Wade-Martins Group. Pavandeep is working at the forefront of an industry/academia collaborative project aimed at developing potential new drugs to treat Parkinson’s.
What led you to a career in research?
I had a very good biology teacher at secondary school who was very passionate and helped me enjoy science. From there, I started learning about pathways in science and was fascinated by all the complex and interconnected issues, where if one very small thing goes wrong, it can affect the whole system. I wanted to problem solve how we can change things that happen to us.
Tell us about your research journey so far
I studied Biochemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham, and during that time I did a sandwich year at Alderley Park near Manchester working on mitochondrial toxicity. I loved working in a big company, and for a lab that was at a late stage of developing drugs that would soon go to patients. I also loved researching mitochondria - these are small entities in your cells producing the energy you need to survive, so any kind of disease affecting mitochondria causes you to produce less energy. They have the potential to affect all of your organs, but they mainly affect the brain. So, afterwards I decided to do a PhD with the aim of going into something drug discovery related. I first conducted an MRes in mitochondrial biology at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University, then a PhD sponsored by Novartis screening compounds that may improve mitochondrial activity in mitochondrial disease. While I really enjoyed it, I found that mitochondrial disease is quite a niche subject area. I wanted to stay within drug discovery but apply my knowledge to a different field, and then my postdoc came up in Richard Wade-Martins’ lab. Mitochondria are affected in many other diseases, and one of those is Parkinson’s, so my postdoc involves using my knowledge of mitochondria drug discovery in Parkinson’s, and alongside that learning a new technique - the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system.