Indian-American biologist receives Packard Fellowship for RNA research

indica News Bureau-

A Whitehead Institute Biomedical Research member and assistant professor of biology at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ankur Jain, an Indian-American biologist and academician, is among 22 researchers to have been named as Packard Fellows, 2019, a prestigious fellowship under which the early-career scientists get USD 875,000 to pursue their research work for the next five years.

Jain was named a Packard Fellow by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for his investigations on how RNA (Ribonucleic acid) aggregation contributes to neurological diseases. “I am very grateful for the Packard Foundation’s support of our continued investigations of how RNA aggregation contributes to disease,” Jain was quoted as saying by MIT news.

Hindustan Times reported that Jain completed his bachelor degree in Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur in 2007, and earned a doctorate in Biophysics and Computational Biology at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 2013. He conducted his postdoctoral research in the lab of Ronald Vale at the University of California, San Francisco.

Jain has discovered that certain RNAs can form aggregates, clumping together into membrane-less gels. This process, known as phase separation, has been widely studied in proteins, but not in RNA. He has found that RNA gels occur in, and could contribute to, a set of neurological conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Huntington’s disease. These conditions, known as repeat expansion diseases, are marked by abnormal repetition of short sequences of nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA (Deoxyribo nucleic Acid) and RNA. The RNAs containing these sequences are more likely to clump together. The Packard fellowship will help Jain advance his research program around this phenomenon.

“Although it is well-appreciated that RNA can form aggregates in test tubes, the biological implications of this process are not yet known,” he explains. “The award will allow us to examine how RNA aggregates affect cell function and ultimately contribute to neurological disease,” he said.

Fifty university presidents are invited each year to nominate two early-career professors from their institutes for the fellowship. A panel scientists and engineers select the fellows out of the 100 nominees. The number of fellows may vary each year. This year the fellowship has been awarded to 22 fellows with individual grants of USD 875,000 over five years.

“We are extraordinarily pleased that Ankur has received such clear and substantive affirmation of his pioneering research on the role that RNAs play in devastating neurological diseases,” said David C Page, Director of Whitehead Institute, adding, “This exciting work is at the forefront of soft-matter physics and cell biology, and could well open new chapters in RNA regulation specifically and in cell biology more broadly.”