January 27, 2016

Leaving rounds for research: U-M’s newest BSSP scholar ‘fascinated’ by discovery

Biological Sciences Scholars Program is developing a new generation of leaders in biomedical research at the University of Michigan

Kaushik Choudhuri
Kaushik Choudhuri

From a young age, Kaushik Choudhuri was fascinated by science.

“My early interest in science stems from reading my father’s subscription to Scientific American and watching reruns of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos as a child,” he recalls.

Ultimately, Choudhuri pursued a career in medicine, earning his medical degree (M.B.B.S.) at King’s College London School of Medicine. He credits his first scientific mentor, Diego Vergani, M.D., Ph.D., a liver immunologist, for opening his eyes to the possibilities of basic research at medical school. He thrived under Vergani’s guidance, publishing several first- and co-authored papers as a medical student.

During his residency programs in hematology and oncology, respiratory medicine, general medicine and neurology, Choudhuri yearned to further explore his scientific roots.

“As a junior doctor, I was astonished by how little we understand about chronic diseases, and I recognized how essential it is for clinicians and basic scientists to work closely together to make progress,” he says. “A good example of this is the recent emergence of immunotherapies for certain cancers and autoimmune diseases.”

After completing his medical training at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, in 2002 Choudhuri began graduate studies at Oxford University that earned him a D.Phil. in molecular immunology. After completing postdoctoral fellowships at Oxford and NYU, he came to the University of Michigan as a scholar in the highly competitive Biological Sciences Scholars Program (BSSP).

With a goal to develop a new generation of leaders in biomedical research at the U-M, the BSSP provides start-up funds to recruit outstanding scientists in key areas of life sciences investigation. Since 1998, the U-M has successfully recruited more than 60 current U-M scholars in genetics, microbiology, immunology, virology, structural biology, pharmacology, biochemistry, molecular pharmacology, stem cell biology, cancer biology, physiology, cell and developmental biology, and the neurosciences. In addition, more than 20 scholars who started their careers at Michigan have gone on to other prestigious institutions.

As the newest BSSP scholar, Choudhuri joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology as an assistant professor in May 2015. Since then, he has been busy establishing his lab, which is focused on the cell biology of lymphocytes — a key immune cell type that defends against infections and cancer. His team uses various types of advanced optical and electron microscopy to study the molecular and cell biological mechanisms by which lymphocytes detect and respond to pathogens.

“Fundamental biology is endlessly fascinating, and the thrill of breaking new ground — or finding a better explanation for how something works (even in small ways) — is very compelling,” he says.

Choudhuri also enjoys music, and has been inspired by Clyde Stubblefield, a drummer in James Brown’s band. “His drum breaks gave birth to hip-hop,” Choudhuri says. “I think if I can manage to do science like he does drums, I will be pretty satisfied with my lot.”

More information on the BSSP is available at the below link.