"For my postdoctoral research, I wanted to understand further the impact of obesity on the epigenome, and IBIMA was a perfect fit as they have extensive research experience in this field"
Dra. Pallavi Kompella has been collaborating in the group Cellular and Molecular Endocrinology thanks to the Fulbright U.S. Scholarship program. She is a pharmacologist with research experience at biopharmaceutical companies in India and the United States. Her research goal in Vasquez Lab at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) was to better define the underlying molecular mechanisms of obesity-related cancers (ORCs).
Question: What does it mean for a researcher to obtain a Fulbright U.S. Scholarship?
The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program was founded by the United States Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946 to improve intellectual and intercultural relations between the United States and other countries. This program helps the scholars to gain professional experience abroad in teaching and research for four months to a year. It is one of the world’s most widely recognized, prestigious and competitive scholarships. For me, being a Fulbright Scholar has been a life-changing experience
Question: What was the objective of your study, and why did you choose IBIMA as a host institution?
At UT AUSTIN, in Texas, USA, my doctoral research focus was to understand the impact of obesity on DNA damage and repair. We found a marked increase in DNA damage and significant alteration in the efficiency of DNA damage repair in various tissues from obese mice compared to tissues from normal-weight mice. For my postdoctoral research, I wanted to understand further the impact of obesity on the epigenome. Epigenetic modifications involve the addition of chemical groups or ‘tags’ to the DNA, which result in heritable changes to gene activity without affecting the underlying DNA sequence. At IBIMA, Dr. Manuel-Macias Gonzalez’s group seemed to be the perfect fit as they have extensive research experience investigating the gene expression and epigenetic modifications of various genes in adipose tissues and tumor tissues from patients with obesity. So, it seemed logical for me to join his group at IBIMA.
Question: How was the role of Dr. Manuel Macías as your supervisor in the achievement of the objectives of your research project?
I came here with my original research proposal, and I am very grateful to Dr. Macias for giving me the chance to pursue it. He is an experienced advisor, and through regular meetings and discussions, he guided me through the project. Every project has challenges. Due to covid and transport-related issues, it was hard to get reagents on time, and it did affect the timelines of my project, but overall, it has been a very productive 9 months.
Question: You presented your research at an obesity conference in Maastricht. Can you share with us the experience?
Being awarded a travel grant by the European Association for the Study of Obesity to attend the European Congress on Obesity Conference in Maastricht, the Netherlands, was an invaluable addition to my experience as a Fulbright US Scholar in Spain. I got feedback from the audience in diverse fields, which helped me look at my research from an innovative perspective and ask relevant unexplored questions. EASO facilitated interactions with fellow researchers and I could make lasting professional relationships with researchers from Maastricht, Denmark, Germany, and the United States, which might result in future collaborations.
Question: What has been your research progress during your stay?
We have made good progress on this project and got some interesting findings, which will be published in due course. I wish I had more time to complete the project, but we plan to collaborate for the next year to bring this project to fruition.
I also got the opportunity to co-author a review article recently accepted for publication in the Nutrition Reviews (Hight impact – First decile scientific journal)
Question: What other activities were you involved in during your stay?
I am also passionate about science communication and outreach. I was offered a chance to present my research to the high school students at the Instituto Secundaria Almenara in Velez, Malaga. I encouraged the students to pursue science in college and informed them about the Fulbright and other scholarship opportunities in the US.
Question: How did IBIMA and the community of Málaga receive you?
Malaga is a splendid city with wonderful people. I found it very safe and inclusive. Not being a fluent Spanish speaker, I depended on the compassion of strangers. I have yet to come across a person who was not kind to me. I felt at home in Malaga.
This Spanish hospitality was extended to me by my colleagues at IBIMA. I enjoyed everything from having scientific discussions to enjoying breakfasts and lunches with them. Some of my colleagues were very generous to invite me to their homes, and I could learn a thing or two about the Spanish culture and cuisine.
Question: Would you recommend IBIMA as a host institution for future fellows?
Yes, I would recommend IBIMA to future fellows. Researchers at IBIMA are a smart, diligent, and dedicated group, and I am fortunate to work with some of them. I liked how research retreats are organized regularly for the researchers to present their research and interact with the clinicians. These and other interactions make IBIMA a nice place to work.
Dr. Manuel Macías and Fulbright U.S. Postdoctoral fellow Pallavi Kompella