“Nobody has shown this before,” says Anthony Simi, associate professor of kinesiology and health sciences at York University, Toronto. “The unique mechanism of this protein was totally unexpected!”
It’s hard to miss the excitement in his voice as he talks about a research paper led by former doctoral student Dibasmita Bhattacharya on the unique functions of the muscle stem cell protein.
The paper was published in a scientific journal called Nature Communications, causing a stir at the university.
“Quite frankly, in my nine years at York, I can’t think of any other student or professor who has been published in nature journals,” he explains. Of the more than 500 papers submitted each year, only 7.7 percent are accepted for publication, after careful peer review.
Bhattacharya’s thesis has been nominated by York University for the Graduate School Award with three winners to be selected from among the first university-wide theses on June 6. Bhattacharya explains the significance of her research.
Scimè talks about Bhattacharya’s journey and the implications of her search (Video: Joyeeta Ray)
Big discovery on an unknown protein
“There are thousands of proteins in the body including p107. How this protein works inside the cell has never been researched,” Bhattacharya explains.
The paper looks at how the p107 protein affects the proliferation (rapid growth) of muscle stem cells. This could lead to new understanding that could have implications in treating hard-to-treat diseases such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and age-related muscle disorders.
Cancer cells [damaged cells] They multiply very quickly. If we can control the proliferation of cancer cells, it may have therapeutic implications in the future,” she explains.
It took Bhattacharya eight years in the lab, working in quiet seclusion away from her husband and daughter, to complete her MA and Ph.D. to get here.
Refusal despite higher education
Bhattacharya was 26 when she and her 2-year-old daughter moved to Brampton with her husband from Kolkata, India, about 10 years ago.
Her husband Bichampian, 32, gave up his burgeoning medical career as an ear, nose and throat specialist to move to Canada in hopes of a better life for the family.
Armed with high qualifications and experience, he was confident of finding a job as a healthcare practitioner. So he encouraged his wife to complete her higher education, being well aware of her academic potential.
Unfortunately, things did not go as they expected. Bhattacharya was rejected from the master’s program although she excelled in BSc in Bioengineering back in India.
“It is not unusual for you to be rejected from a master’s or doctoral program in Canada if a supervisor refuses,” Bhattacharya says. But the reasons for her refusal left her unprepared.
“My supervisor asked me via an email if I had family with me in Canada. When I heard that I had a husband and a 2-year-old daughter, my application was rejected. She said any child would distract me from giving the program the full commitment it required,” says Bhattacharya.
She was dazed but did not lose hope. She reached out to Anthony Simi, who welcomed her to the program, and understands her situation. But its obstacles did not end there.
There were no set hours in the lab. “Once I walked in, I had no idea when I would be home.” As a result, she could hardly spend time with her family even on weekends. Her husband was also badly injured.
Underestimating the value of foreign experience
“My husband was unable to get a job in the medical field despite being a licensed physician from home,”
“In Canada, medical professionals trained abroad need to go through the accreditation process. Although he started the program, he gave it up halfway to work as a laboratory technician to meet financial needs.” He also gave up on it out of frustration, feeling overqualified and not caring about the job.
If he knew that his medical experience wouldn’t get him a job [in his chosen profession] Here, we may not have come here at all! Bhattacharya confesses.
With no other choice, Baichambian made the difficult decision to turn to finance. The brokerage that he was associated with afforded him the flexibility to work from home when needed.
The adventure paid off. After an initial struggle, he did well, and Bhattacharya was able to focus on her research, relieved that her husband was home to look after their daughter.
However, when his financial venture took off, he gave up his medical career for good.
The devaluation of foreign expertise has led to a severe shortage of frontline workers and medical equipment for Canada, straining the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Only 41 percent of internationally educated healthcare professionals work in their field compared to 58 percent of Canadian-born professionals. Read the full report here: https://wenr.wes.org/2020/10/covid-19-and-canadas-underutilized-internationally-educated-health-professionals
In biotechnology, a lack of capital is failing to attract and retain candidates, both in higher education programs and in the workforce.
“I invested eight years of my life to earn only $22,000 a year in doctoral money,” admits Bhattacharya, most of which was received through government grants.
“My money was less than I was spending on daycare,” she says, explaining why so few newcomers with their families had difficulty pursuing Ph.D. programs. It is difficult for them to provide for the family.”
Bhattacharya now teaches at Humber College while pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at York University under another professor. Scimè moved with a different team to pursue Bhattacharya’s research. But he is excited about what Bhattacharya has started with.
Usually, research of this magnitude is done by several laboratories. We are a small team of four people with limited resources. So, the hard work of Depp and others in the lab, Vicki Shaw, Oriolua Orisago and myself paid off,” he says.
“The significance here is that we have discovered the way that adult muscle cells divide through a new mechanism that applies to other cell types such as cancer cells. We have discovered a way to stop the multiplication of cancer cells. We are following this in the laboratory.”
“Her research is exciting because of the mechanism she discovered. This is a huge discovery,” says Simi.
After years of working in seclusion, Bhattacharya feels that her hard work has paid off. “When you receive recognition from distinguished scholars at international conferences across Canada, you begin to realize the true effectiveness of your work,” she says with a smile.
While Bhattacharya eagerly awaits the award process to know the outcome of her nominations, she has left unfinished business on her wish list. “I would like to meet the professor who rejected my master’s degree application and inform her of my paper,” she says. “No woman should be discouraged from pursuing higher education simply because she is a mother!” Emphasizes.
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