INSIDER BLOG

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Rohit Anthony Sinha,  
Senior Research Fellow, Program in Cardiovascular & Metabolic Disorders

My mum would have never guessed that her chubby toddler, who grew up in the eighties, playing with G.I. Joe action figures, would one day grow up to be a scientist. 

I grew up in the historic multicultural Indian city of Lucknow, famous for its music, poetry and food. 

During my childhood, I was very interested in music and learned to play the guitar, harmonica and keyboard. I even learnt Indian classical music and enjoyed playing and singing my favourite Bollywood songs.

I didn’t become a musician, but in that transition from childhood to adulthood nature and all things natural beckoned to me. Richard Dawkins’ books on evolution and the classic documentary series by Carl Sagan greatly impacted my outlook towards Biology and it dawned on me that there was a lot to explore about the universe. 

I embarked on my scientific journey and cleared the Indian government fellowships (Council of Medical Research and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) in two consecutive years.  Both fellowships were critical to my pursuit of a doctorate and also paved my entry into the Sanjay Gandhi Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow as a Research Fellow in the Department of Endocrinology. 

While doing my PhD I met Dr Paul Yen whose support partly made my research project possible.  Mutual respect concretized our bond and when Paul told me that he was moving to Singapore, I was very happy to join him. In August 2009, I was officially with Paul’s team in the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders (CVMD) Program at Duke-NUS as a post-doc. 

At Duke-NUS my research is mainly focused on endocrine and metabolic disorders. My team has specifically delved into further understanding a cellular degradative process called “Autophagy”. Autophagy is a normal physiological process in the body involving the destruction of cells in the body. Our group was able to show how autophagy was critical in maintaining physiological fat burning activity in liver, a process which, in the event of failure, gives rise to fatty liver disease and insulin resistance in humans (For more information please refer to Sinha at al, JCI, 2012 and Sinha et al., Hepatology, 2013).

Rohit's lab members (L-R): Sherwin Xie, Brijesh Kumar Singh and Duke-NUS MD/PhD Student Benjamin Farah  

While our study showed how hormones were necessary to reduce fat deposition in liver cells via autophagy, we were more interested in exploring dietary products and drugs that could activate this process as a potential treatment of human fatty liver.

In short, we discovered caffeine as a potent autophagic inducer in liver, which may be able to treat Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) - the leading cause of liver damage and a risk factor for diabetes.  Our team hopes the research results will lead to the development of caffeine-like drugs that do not have the usual side effects related to caffeine, yet retain its therapeutic effects on the liver. 

It has been fun working in Singapore at Duke-NUS and I have learned a lot during my time here. The environment is very open and colleagues are very friendly. Our labs, like many in the school, have researchers from diverse backgrounds who work together cohesively, in unity and with respect. I am grateful to them for their support. Mostly, I am impressed by the humble nature of our team leader, Dr Paul Yen and the amount of trust and research freedom that he empowers his team members with.

Rohit at the 2012 SingHealth Duke-NUS Scientific Congress - he received the 2nd prize for the Best Oral Paper (Basic Science).

As for my personal development and journey ahead I too, like every Postdoc, aspire to start my own lab soon and continue contributing to the scientific enrichment and medical advancement of our society.