When did you first become interested in science?
I became interested in science during high school. However, it was not until my master’s degree, when I decided to pursue a career in science.
Tell me more about your career path. Why did you pick The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and your program and what year did you graduate?
It has been an interesting journey. I was born in a teacher’s family with modest means in a remote village of district Siwan, Bihar India. I am 5th among seven siblings. My father made us realize the value of education early on.
I completed my elementary school in my village and middle school in a nearby place but for my high school and bachelor’s degree, I had to go to Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, India which was 400 Km away from home due to lack of better facilities nearby. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I joined the master’s program in Biotechnology at Jawaharlal University (JNU), New Delhi, India with the expectation that after completion of the program in two years, I would get a job in a biotech company and I would be able to help myself and my family.
However, after arriving at JNU which is one of the best institutes in India, my thought processes changed. I found myself among people who were dedicated to science and various social causes. It gave me an international level of exposure and presented me with the opportunities to explore the career options abroad. I applied to the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and got an opportunity to work with Dr. Judy Teale in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UT Health San Antonio and eventually joined her lab as a Ph.D. candidate.
She was an excellent mentor. The environment in the lab was very conducive and encouraged trainees to grow as a scientist. Moreover, my project was very interesting and we wanted to characterize the cell-specific changes in the brain barriers using Laser Capture Microdissection coupled with a genome-wide gene expression analysis approach to gain insight into the mechanisms which lead to inflammation in the brain.
After my graduation in 2011, I joined Dr. Abba Kastin and Wiehong Pan’s Lab at Pennington Biomedical Research Center for my postdoctoral research where I continued to work in neuroimmunology field. After a short postdoctoral training, I joined UT San Antonio as an Assistant Professor of Research in 2013. While I was following the academic route of submitting research grants to NIH and teaching to advance my career, these three years also gave me an opportunity for introspections.
Finally, I found my calling as an entrepreneur and in the year 2016, I co-founded iGenomeDx Inc.
Tell me about your current career?
I am the Chief Operation Officer of iGenomeDx Inc. which provides molecular diagnostic services including pharmacogenomic tests and infectious disease tests to physicians. Pharmacogenomic tests (PGx) help determine the right medicine and dosage for individuals based on their genetic makeup. PGx tests have the potential to reduce trial and error and thus adverse drug reactions which is 4th leading cause of death in the USA.
Another service that iGenomeDx provides is infectious disease testing for a panel of pathogens causing respiratory, gastrointestinal, wound and urinary tract infections. These PCR-based tests are more accurate, multiplexed/comprehensive, and have shorter turnaround time when compared with traditional culture-based diagnostic approaches.
What is a day like in your job?
Leading a startup is both challenging and exciting as you wear multiple hats. It is thrilling to know how you touch people’s life towards better health but it also brings a lot of responsibility on your head. General routine tasks are more related to lab operations and technical supervision with occasional presentations, conferences and group meetings with the physician(s). Annually, we also reassess and evaluate our financial scope and expansion plans which often requires interaction with our current and future investors.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging aspect is marketing (both myself and our services). Coming from a science background, I will always have a conservative approach. In contrast, being an entrepreneur, marketing should be your innate quality.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part of the work is knowing that I could help avoid unnecessary medication (thus, adverse drug response) to a patient especially for a little kid or an elderly person. In addition, infectious disease testing has the potential to facilitate antibiotic stewardship.
What has been your proudest achievement?
Proudest achievement is, of course, to see the idea of a startup come into existence in a very short period of time. iGenomeDx is now serving communities in Texas, New Jersey, Maryland, Idaho, Utah and (now) California. Also, it is very satisfactory to see a team working together diligently at iGenomeDx to provide services to improve health outcomes in our community.
How did the education you get at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepare you?
Rather than just the education, UT Health provided a comprehensive stage for future success. It provided me a perfect blend of critical thinking, teamwork, interpersonal skills, being resourceful and innovative and most importantly it provided an introductory opportunity to health care.
Also, as an immigrant, I could not have found a better environment to get introduced to society and understand the health care system and its challenges.
What are your favorite memories at UT Health San Antonio?
Quite frankly, when in school you are so engrossed in your course work, and research that you don’t think that those days will become a memory for you.
I have been in the USA for 16 years. My parents visited me for the first-time last year. I took them to the UT Health San Antonio campus. Walking with them on the campus brought back all the fond memories from the library to the laboratory.
What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice?
My advice would be to have an open mindset as an opportunity presents itself in various shape and forms. Focus on the translational aspect of your research. Identify the gaps in the health care field and see how can your expertise help address the gap or improve the quality of care and health outcomes.
Also, I would advise to actively network and have a group of mentors who can point you in the right direction depending on your interest.
What are some options that I can do to gain experience in this field now as a graduate student?
Go out and network! Be more engaged with the community.
What do you like to do outside of work? Any hobbies?
I love meditation and traveling. However, I am unable to do much of traveling with my current schedule. Hopefully, this will change soon!
I am blessed with a beautiful family of four, my wife, Dr. Niti Vanee, my daughter, Eshanka (3YO) and son, Sharvil Mishra (1.5YO). Outside work, my priority is to spend as much time I can with my family.