February 01, 2016

Kaushik Choudhuri, MBBS, DPhil: Immunologist, BSSP scholar

Kaushik Choudhuri, MBBS, DPhil
What do you do at UMHS?

I am an immunologist, and mainly work on the cell biology of lymphocytes — a key immune cell type that defends against infections and cancer. We use various types of advanced optical and electron microscopy to study the molecular and cell biological mechanisms by which lymphocytes detect and respond to pathogens. Of course, no single approach provides a clear view of the processes involved, and so our work spans several other disciplines.

Why is this interesting to you?

I wonder if I have any choice at all in my research interest — it seems to have chosen me. To co-opt a term from my clinical colleagues, I am an idiopathic immunologist. All I can say is that 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.

When you’re not working, what do you do?

I have been quite occupied with setting up my lab in the past months, but I am having fun exploring Ann Arbor and Detroit when I can. I am really impressed by the Detroit Institute of Arts — it has a wonderful contemporary art collection, and I go often.

What moment in the lab/clinic stands out as the most memorable?

I was a clinician in a previous life (in the UK), but have been focused on basic research for a decade now. 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. A good example of this is the recent emergence of
immunotherapies for certain cancers and autoimmune diseases.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

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. The person I still think of when designing or interpreting experiments — to gauge whether they measure up — is my doctoral mentor at Oxford, Anton van der Merwe, Ph.D.

What are you currently reading?

Failure: Why Science is So Successful by Stuart Firestein. It gives an excellent flavor of what the doing of science is about.

What was the best meal you’ve ever had?

There are few things that make me happier than having dosas (like a crêpe, but infinitely more blissful).

Who or what inspires you?

Clyde Stubblefield, who was a drummer in James Brown’s band. His drum breaks gave birth to hip-hop. I think if I can manage to do science like he does drums, I will be pretty satisfied with my lot.