Next Generation is a Brigham Clinical & Research News column penned by students, residents, fellows and postdocs. If you are a Brigham trainee interested in contributing a column, email us. This month’s column is written by Kanupriya “Kanu” Kusumakar, MBBS, MD, MMSc, a research fellow in Pathology.
“Sarve bhavantu sukhinaha, sarve santu niramaya.” This Sanskrit shloka means “May all be happy and fortunate; may all be healthy and well.”
I grew up idolizing my father, a first-generation doctor who firmly believed in this adage from the Indian scriptures, and I inherited his love for serving the community. I followed in his footsteps with dreams of helping patients who often lived in abject conditions predisposing them to various infectious diseases. Like any other young medical graduate, I hoped to become a surgeon. However, life seemed to have other plans. My conversations with the then president of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, from whom I received a gold medal in community medicine, inspired me to tread a path of scientific research. His life experiences as a researcher, specifically his invention of the “Kalam-Raju-Stent” for coronary heart disease and its impact on patients’ lives, opened new frontiers for me. With this newfound inspiration, I left behind my clinical practice in India to pursue a master’s in medical sciences in Immunology at Harvard Medical School. As I grew more fascinated with the world of Immunology, I chose to do my master’s thesis in the field of neuroimmunology in the lab of Vijay Kuchroo, DVM, PhD, at BWH. While here, I studied the bidirectional crosstalk between the enteric neurons and our immune system.
My first foray into the world of basic life sciences research came with its challenges. This journey from a clinician to a research trainee was as fulfilling as it was challenging. The toughest lesson I learned was to accept failures, for you could do everything by the book and still not get the anticipated results. Thus, learning the intricacies of cell culture and basic research techniques also taught me resilience in the face of failure, and my mentors were there every step of the way to guide, support and uplift me.
Dr. Kuchroo’s lab further fueled my passion for research and equipped me well for my next adventure as a researcher. So, I continued my journey here at BWH and joined Manfred Brigl, MD, in his lab as a postdoctoral fellow. Starting as a postdoc during one of the most challenging health care crises in recent times was a unique experience. As the pandemic raged on, feelings of isolation crept in, and my search for solutions led me to the fantastic postdoc leadership council (PLC) at BWH. Then-president Saurabh Soni, PhD, welcomed me as a member of the networking committee. Joining the PLC during the tough COVID times proved to be the soothing balm I needed. The exceptional fellow postdocs who volunteer their time despite their hectic work schedules to improve the lives of the postdoc community at BWH have been a source of comfort and inspiration. Together, we have organized social events and curated career development webinars. We have advocated for postdoc rights and worked with Brigham Research Institute leadership to give postdocs at BWH a holistic experience. The hospital leadership has been outstanding in responding to our concerns and ensuring the postdoc community has a fulfilling experience. Beyond my research, the council has given me a sense of purpose and gifted me with cherished friendships that enhance every facet of my life.
While the COVID-19 pandemic brought multiple challenges, it also gave me unique opportunities to grow as a researcher. Under Dr. Brigl’s guidance, I studied unconventional T cells and their role in intestinal immunity. As I learned new techniques, I also honed my skills in managing the lab, training technicians and learning to collaborate. Working with Dr. Brigl also allowed me to delve into some clinical research and work on understanding bacterial genomes. The opportunity to present our work at various conferences has also broadened my horizons to what this field offers. I can proudly say that my time here has made me a better researcher, an efficient administrator and a skilled communicator. Like Dr. Brigl, I want to continue growing as a microbiologist/immunologist working at the intersection of these two intertwined fields of medicine. At BWH we are surrounded by some of the world’s best minds, encouraging you to be your best self.
My time at BWH has taught me that research is the forerunner for medical advancement and improved patient care. As I continue to grow and garner the skills necessary to be a good clinician-scientist, I am deeply honored and humbled that I am carrying my dad’s legacy by working toward the betterment of the people, one experiment at a time.
Willian Osler said, “Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.” I now believe the same is true for research. My four years at BWH have strengthened my commitment to serving the local and global community as a researcher and a clinician. With the skills and lessons acquired here, I hope to make a meaningful impact in my field and contribute to the well-being of individuals and communities, just as my dad has done throughout his career.