Associate Professor (G)
International Affairs & Resource Planning (IARP)
PDF: Biophysics/Molecular Dynamics/Molecular Biology/LASER instrumentation
Scientist @ VIDO: Innate Mucosal Immunity
Faculty @ NISER: Innate Mucosal Immunity/Gut Microbiome & Stress with emphasis on Gut-Brain-Gut Axis
Palok Aich, PhD, Associate Professor (G), School of Biological Sciences,
FIC/Dean, International Affairs & Resource Planning
Chairperson, Library Advisory Committee
National Institute of Science Education & Research (NISER),
P.O. Bhimpur-Padanpur via Jatni; Bhubaneswar 752 050; Khurda, Odisha, India
O:+916742494133/2494016; F: +916742494004
During my PhD (Supervisor: Professor Dipak Dasgupta), I studied mechanisms of interactions of select antitumor antibiotics with DNA and role of magnesium ion.
Submitting my PhD thesis, I moved to Stockholm, Sweden [Stockholm University and Karolinksa Institutet] for my 1st PDF research (Supervisor: Professor Astrid Gräslund), I worked on understanding higher ordered structures of DNA (using 2D NMR, CD and other biophysical techniques). I also worked on Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy (FCS) to understand base pair dynamics in nucleic acids including PNA at single molecule level with Professor Rudolf RIgler. We also built the world's first FCS to work in the ultraviolet region of light.
At Saskatoon [University of Saskatchewan] for my next PDF (Supervisor: Professor Jeremy Lee) research, I started working on establishing higher ordered DNA structure in vivo using c-myc and c-src oncogenes. While working on the project, we discovered a novel form of DNA that could conduct electricity when doped with certain transition metal ions. This form of DNA is termed as M-DNA [M-stands for 'metal'] and we patented it. We also tried to develop abzymes against M-DNA. A company named ADNAVANCE was founded.
Following my PDF training, I joined a bio-pharmaceutical company in Canada as Group Leader [Bio-imaging] followed by a brief period of work in a position as in-charge, Biophysical section of Saskatchewan Structural Sciences Center, Saskatoon, SK, Canada before moving to VIDO as a scientist to work in the areas of Omics to understand effects of psychological stress on host-pathogen interactions for bovine enteric and respiratory diseases in cattle model as well as enhancing efficacy of immune stimulators using nanotechnology in chicken.
In 2009, I joined NISER and started working on understanding effects of psychological stress on humans.
Modern day world requires more work than play. While such demand puts us under various stressors (cause of stress) with the potential to perturb homeostasis, physiologically we try to restore normalcy by adjusting parameters of several physiological processes of a system. How do we achieve the restoration, how are balancing acts performed among different processes such as immunity, metabolism etc. are a few of the interests of my laboratory. My lab also tries to develop methodologies to quantify psychological stress status of individuals, correlating stress with disease susceptibility (e.g. metabolic syndromes and infectious diseases) as well as how innate immunity can be primed to prevent against such diseases. For priming, we use mainly select probiotics and host defense peptides. We also try to enhance efficacy of these immune modulators by nanotechnology.
Currently, my focus is on understanding role of gut microbiome in modulating innate immune system and metabolism. We try to understand the effects of gut microbiome on brain and effects of psychological stress (as a perturbation to brain function) on gut microbiome. We try to understand reversibility of Gut-Brain-Gut axis.
Hundreds of trillions (1014) of tiny creatures call our body home, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and others. They're not always bad news, and in fact, our health depends on having a thriving collection of microbes. Our results are leading to an insight that correlation, of genomic and metagenomic (especially for gut microbiota) features of individuals, could perhaps lead to a better understanding of physiology and better maintenance of health. There are microbes everywhere on our body. Some coat our skin (yes, even after we wash our hands). Others populate the inside of our mouth (some of them forming tooth-destroying plaque, and others that are harmless or beneficial). Our large intestine is the largest repository of microbes—about three pounds' worth according to some estimates. If we could count the number of individual bacterial cells, we would find that although they are small, they vastly outnumber our own, human cells.
Some of the details are fuzzy, but we know that our microbiomes are linked to our health. The immune system doesn't develop properly without signals from skin microbes. Microbes can influence obesity and have been linked to a variety of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. Clearly, our health is linked with the health of our tiny passengers, but scientists are still struggling to understand what a "healthy" microbiome should look like.
We know, for example, that people whose gut ecosystems are overrun by deadly Clostridium difficile can be cured with microbes from a healthy donor—the now famous fecal transplant. We know that probiotics can prevent a horrific infection called NEC that kills preemies. Beyond that, results are mostly inconclusive. Probiotics seem to protect against diarrhea in some trials but not others, for example.
While microbes seems important in maintaing health but the understandig of the mode of action and mechanisms are not clear. It has been shown that food plays an important role in setting up the microbiome in the gut but how the change in diet will alter microbiome and how will it influence health is an important area yet to be explored.
By the time our food gets to the microbes in our large intestine, the starch, sugar, fats, and proteins have been digested and absorbed. This leaves a handful of nutrients that are sometimes called "prebiotics." They include a variety of carbohydrates that our own enzymes can't digest, including soluble fiber, resistant starch, and certain oligosaccharides. It's likely that many of the beneficial effects of fiber, and of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, may be due to such a diet's effects on gut microbes.
There's no doubt that people are going to dope via microbes. There are companies talking about big cosmetic changes. There are going to be new smells, new functions. It's a really interesting area, because you don't have to modify the genes of a person, right, if you want to give them a new function. You can just give them a pill with a microbe that has a new function. You might have to take that pill every day if the microbes don't stay around, but you could still add a living, bio-producing organism into your system that could last longer or do different things than a normal drug.
Main question of my group is, how does microbiome maintain homeostasis to maintain and define health. By perturbing a normal microbiome we would like to know (a) what is the restoration dynamics, (b) what does the perturbation affect physiology ( e.g. metabolism and innate mucosal immunity), (c) how does gut-brain-gut axis regulate gut microbiome or how is physiology being regulated by the microbiome.
A few important leads, that currently my group is working on, are
Systems Biology (BE1), Biophysics & Biostatistics (B203),
Science of Life (I & II) (B101 & 102)
Quantitative Biology (B558) and laboratory courses
Basic Techniques in Life Science
At Karolinska Institutet
Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy (FCS)
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