Madhusudhanan Narasimhan

Using cell culture and animal models, Dr. Madhusudhanan Narasimhan (SX 2013) is investigating how alcohol and environmental pesticides affect neurons. He is also studying how bio-ingredients from a vegetable and a spice can prevent the brain damage caused by alcohol and pesticides, and how to improve treatments of neurological complications inflicted by these toxins.

Sameliahires2ForWebTell us about your educational background.
I received my BS and MS degrees in biochemistry from India. My awe for biochemistry was inspired by a couple of undergraduate teachers. This pushed me to take up research and explore the breadth of biological chemistry. I received my PhD in biochemistry in 2003 from India. I am currently working as a senior research associate and I'm an active member at the South Plains Alcohol and Addiction Research Center, which is part of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas. 

What is the focus of your current research? 
I am involved in multiple, vital translational research studies designed to (a) discover the biological basis for the developmental disorders of the brain induced by alcohol and environmental pesticides such as rotenone and paraquat, (b) learn the role of microRNAs in alcohol- and pesticide-induced neuro-abnormalities, (c) test natural chemopreventors present in broccoli and turmeric against alcohol- and pesticide-induced neuronal damage, and (d) identify better molecular targets to improve existing treatment strategies in pediatric neurological cancers. I test these hypotheses in cell culture and various animal models. 

Tell us about something we might see in our daily lives that directly correlates to your work. 
Sameliahires1ForWebConsumption of alcoholic beverages has become customary in social situations and 70% of all American adults, including pregnant women, consume alcohol. But, the main question is: Do the majority of them drink alcohol in a responsible manner? The answer is "no," and the consequences include serious physical and mental health problems. In this context, my research is devoted to finding key mechanisms/targets responsible for inducing death of neurons in a developing fetus when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol. Another topic of my research is to study how the nerve cells are affected by environmental pesticides such as rotenone and paraquat, to which humans are exposed knowingly or unknowingly. My other research focus is strategic testing of the effect of nutraceutical compounds of broccoli and turmeric against alcohol- and pesticide-induced brain damage. 

Give us an example of how multi-disciplinary research directly contributed to your work.
As a graduate student, I studied the effect of natural chemopreventors against aflatoxin-induced oxidative stress abnormalities. In one of my postdoctoral projects, I demonstrated for the first time that curcumin, a bio-active ingredient of turmeric, targets RON, an onco-tyrosine kinase and its tumorigenic function in breast tumor cells. My current work is with sulforaphane, a phytonutrient present in broccoli. I'm testing its efficacy against alcohol-induced oxidative stress that mediates neuronal damage during gestation. Thus, the multidisciplinary knowledge of natural phytochemicals and toxicology that I acquired during my PhD has greatly contributed to my ability to carry out research in highly challenging areas such as cancer and neuropharmacology. 

What are your thoughts on the future of STEM education?
Given the rapidity with which technology advances and the associated inevitable social changes that is expected to occur, the need for strengthening STEM education is highly essential and is certainly a must-have foundation for the future. Let us first break the unfamiliarity among students, parents, faculties, and on the whole community itself, and create a suitable atmosphere for STEM learners by emphasizing diversified teaching methodologies, (e.g. classroom + fieldwork + research) that confers intellectual engagement and interest among "STEM"mers. It is high time that STEM education is considered as a national priority and if the shortcomings, including funding glitches, are soon addressed, I am certain that the United States can stay atop economically and can continue to create the next generation of leaders. 

Describe the patent/publishing experience—were there any bumps along the way for you?
Like many others, I too had bumps and bruises along the way with getting into publications. In the beginning of my research career, rejections were extremely upsetting. Soon after five publications, I realized that rejection from a journal does not mean that my science and concept is not good. I also understood that although there is no manual for easily getting published, a well laid abstract along with a clear title and selection of appropriate journal can ensure ~20% of success. However, the rest is dependent on defining interesting questions, supported with clear experimental evidences and lucid arguments. 

What has the honor of induction into Sigma Xi meant to you?
The greatest of honors one can receive in a lifetime is to be recognized and chosen by one's peers. The full membership that is conferred to me by Sigma Xi has injected enthusiasm and renewed my motivation. Sigma Xi is comprised of many distinguished personalities from the field of engineering and applied science, and thus to be a part of such an elite scientific professional society is a huge honor. Notably, association with a society like Sigma Xi that has more than 200 Nobel laureates as members is certainly a privilege without compare. Indeed, this status has heightened my sense of responsibility.

Has Sigma Xi helped further your career? 
I am in the transition phase to become an independent scientist and as a preparatory step, I have become a member in the prestigious Sigma Xi. As I have gotten into this worldwide web of renowned scientific personalities, I anticipate a great deal of professional socialization with my peers. As time goes by, I am sure that I can find scientists who have similar interest as me and can build healthy relationships and collaborations. 

What books are you currently reading for pleasure?
Robin Cook's Cure; Deepak Chopra's The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life. 

What do you do in your free time?
Listen to music, read the newspaper, watch movies, and follow sports news (especially cricket and the NBA). 

What's your favorite movie?
Forrest GumpThe DepartedThe Great DebatersSalangai Oli (Tamil Regional), Black (Hindi). 

What is your favorite motto?
"High but not the highest intelligence, combined with the greatest degree of persistence, will achieve greater eminence than the highest degree of intelligence with somewhat less persistence."
—A scientific study conducted by Catherine Cox with 301 geniuses (1926). 

What advice would you give a young researcher just starting out in your field?
The best research discoveries have often been simple things that were ignored and unnoticed. So, pay attention to small details and be open to accommodating deviations from central dogma. Sometimes the scientific questions that we set out to address won't reveal their true secret and turn out to be boring. Try to make it interesting by opening up communication channels, getting advice from all over, and rethinking. Love your negative results as they may be a golden opportunity to find out something exciting. 

What advances do you see in your field of research over the next 125 years?
With genome mapping a possibility now, in the next 125 years, we should be able to nail genes that are responsible for the rewarding and sedative effects of alcohol dependence. This can further lead to designing suitable countermeasures to block alcohol's action. With brain mapping and more advanced imaging around the corner, we can pinpoint any abnormal changes associated with intricate inter- and intra-neuronal connections in brains. Having caught these changes, suitable neurotherapeutic strategies can be devised and progression of many of the neurodegenerative illnesses could be curbed. At the same time, I am a strong believer of Niels Bohrs' ideology: "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." 

Do you have a particular teacher or professor who inspired your love of science? Why? 
It is truly a hard task to pick a few among many of my "superhero teachers" who have generated a profound influence. I was inspired by my high school teacher Mr. P.R. Krishnamurthy and learned that "If you don't love it, it won't get done." It was the teaching style of Dr. R. Krishnamurthy and Dr. A.R. Srinivasan during my undergraduate studies that kindled the curiosity for science and research in me. I was inspired by my PhD advisor, Dr. K. RadhaShanmugasundarm and learned the rigors of scientific research from her. My PhD advisor, Dr. C. Panneerselvam inspires me by being a bench scientist at the age of 62+ from whom I learned the knack of dealing with scientific disappointments. Many a times you fail in research and it is my colleague, Dr. L. Mahimainathan, and my current mentor, Dr. George Henderson, who inspires me with their intense intellectual curiosity and urged me to rethink that scientific research is like an adventure. 

About the Meet Your Fellow Companion series: Sigma Xi's motto is the Greek "Spoudon Xynones," or "Companions in Zealous Research." With that thought in mind, we like to highlight "Fellow Companions" to learn more about their work and what the honor of induction to Sigma Xi has meant for their careers. 

The articles are published in the Sigma Xi Today section of American Scientist and here on the website.