Voices of Young Researchers

Voices of Young Researchers: Interview with Shailender Kanwar

Can you tell us briefly about your research background?

I am a post-doctoral researcher from an interdisciplinary background: a biophysicist working in the field of translational oncology. Currently my research focuses on two key areas of cancer research: the use of the circulating tumor cell (CTC) isolation technologies in understanding the metastasis of cancer, and designing better tools for pre-clinical therapeutics and diagnosis to prevent the incidence of cancer and its recurrences and help increase survival rates and patient quality of life.

What are some of your research inspirations, motivations and goals?

The world of natural sciences, especially human biology - its anatomy and the wonderfully complex and well-organized system of physiological functions - has captivated me since childhood. Over time I became fascinated by how human life processes are interrupted by diseases. Raised in a small rural town in north India, one that lacked modern diagnostics and treatment facilities, and having witnessed the devastating effects of cancer in people’s lives, I became specifically interested in studying cancer for my doctoral research in Cancer Biophysics.

It motivates me greatly to see that present day medical science has enormous scope to utilize cross-disciplinary approaches to create technologies that can provide answers to current patient needs. Having trained as a cancer researcher, I see opportunities to work in areas that find ways to detect cancer at an early stage as well as improve current therapies to avoid recurrence of cancers or metastasis. This inspires me to work in translational research in cancer therapeutics and understanding the role of CTCs in spreading cancers and to look for clues in environmental factors that promote cancer metastasis. I am passionate in my goal to develop better medical-devices for cancer diagnosis through transforming proof of concept experiments into working biophysical prototypes useful for clinical and research purposes.

How does your post-doctoral research position at the Biointerfaces Institute advance your career at the intersection of medical and engineering sciences?

The unique NCRC features of co-location, shared facilities, dynamic interdisciplinary faculty members and projects with translational research objectives are very well aligned with my research goals. As a part of the Biointerfaces Institute, working with Dr. Sunitha Nagrath, I am in one of the best research environments and feel excited to be working on the technological aspects of developing tools that would be used in standard clinical or research practices in the future. At NCRC we share common research space with scientists from the Cancer Center, the Translational Oncology Group, pharmaceutical sciences, dental sciences, biomedical engineering and chemical engineering. It has provided me a valuable platform to easily interact and exchange ideas with engineers, clinicians and cancer researchers, all working toward a unified goal of developing tools for cancer diagnosis or treatment. In this position I have gained many new perspectives in understanding the engineering aspect of biomedical research, especially issues related to designing, prototyping and micro-fabrication of microfluidic devices. At the same time I have realized the significance of my previous training in adding value to engineering side of research, making it more relevant for biological and clinical applications.

How is the NCRC location advantageous to your research advancement?

Being at the University of Michigan, and at NCRC in particular, I have valuable opportunities to discuss my ideas and projects with leading researchers in interdisciplinary and translational research. I have already initiated research projects in collaboration with researchers from the Comprehensive Cancer Center and various engineering groups. The close proximity of each group at NCRC is advantageous for speeding up research in the lab. NCRC has excellent core-facilities and equipment, located right next to my lab. I frequently use FACS, microscopic imaging and the DNA-sequencing core facilities. The close location of the biomedical research store is also very convenient. NCRC houses the Office of Tech Transfer which provides necessary mentorship and resources for finding commercial success for research outcomes. Through my current projects I am looking forward to using all these resources to commercialize innovative in-vitro diagnostics for the use of disease surveillance and monitoring.

Since it has been easy to meet and work with researchers outside my group at NCRC, I have gained valuable skills of working in cross-disciplinary teams of engineers, clinicians, researchers and technicians. To be able to effectively coordinate and communicate with researchers of different backgrounds in a collaborative environment is a critical skill in a research career today.