Please tell us about yourself
Megha Aggarwal, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher in molecular biosciences. She researches molecular structures that can be used to design and develop inhibitors of a family of viruses that includes mumps, measles, Nipah, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and parainfluenza virus 5 (PIV5). She aspires to help create drugs that improve the health of humans and animals.
What did you study?
Megha Agrawal did her Master’s degree in Biotechnology from H. P. University, Shimla and received her Ph.D. in Biotechnology from the Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee, which is one of the premier institutions in India with an outstanding reputation across the globe. She won a highly competitive research award given by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in India to carry out her PhD work.
How would you describe your research and/or work?
Currently I am focusing on PIV5, one of the causes of kennel cough in dogs. Kennel cough is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection which causes a dry, hacking cough in dogs. In severe cases, the condition can lead to lethargy, fever, and pneumonia. PIV5 is also thought to cause severe respiratory illnesses in calves, and encephalitis in dogs. In my efforts towards the process of drug development against PIV5, I have determined the crystal structure of two viral proteins; the nucleoprotein (N), and the phosphoprotein (P) peptide. The structure of N-P peptide can be used as a target to design and develop PIV5 inhibitors.
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
Coming to the United States as a Fulbright scholar during my graduate studies was the most memorable event. Being in a foreign country for the first time as a Fulbright fellow was both challenging and exciting. I was exposed to a completely new environment and work culture. I also learned several new techniques related to my field.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
My parents are very supportive and encourage me to do research. Also, my PhD and postdoc advisers are such an inspiration. They are highly energetic and motivated individuals. Another inspiring moment was when I attended a seminar and the speaker mentioned that her kids got the vaccine developed by her team.
Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?
I greatly admire my postdoc supervisor, Dr. Robert Lamb, for his wide vision and knowledge of the field. He knows each and every research paper of our field including the year, authors and authors’ affiliations. He is also a very calm and kind person.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I go to yoga classes or swim at the University gym after work. Both of these are pretty amazing. They help me to unwind and relax after a stressful day at the bench.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
I would say to keep working hard and never give up. All the hard work and patience will pay off. We should also help others and seek help from others. Also, your health is important, so try to work out in addition to doing lab work.
Tell us about a current achievement or something you’re working on that excites you.
I studied human viruses in my graduate program. In my postdoc, I started working on the virus PIV5 that causes disease in dogs. Like human influenza, it spreads very quickly among dogs, specifically to those in animal shelters, and can even be contacted after vaccination. I am very excited to work on PIV5 so that I can improve the overall health of humans as well as dogs.
Tell us about a time when things did not go as you planned, what did you learn?
At various times, my project did not go according to plan, and I wanted to give up. Despite this, I continued working on the same project using different strategies and things worked out eventually. I learned to be patient and continue working hard.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I provided several structures to the Protein Data Bank and designed assays for viral proteins. I am so pleased that I have made contributions to the scientific community that had a significant impact on society, especially for human and animal health. I have become more independent in designing and performing the experiments.