3D-bioprinted tissues and organs are the future of medicine where a diseased or damaged tissue is printed using the patient’s own cells.

Sumit Murab (PhD), our next pathbreaker, Assistant Professor at IIT Mandi (BioX center), teaches and conducts research on orthopedic tissue engineering and 3D printed/ bio-printed implants.

Sumit talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his global experiences in the field of Tissue Engineering and Stem Cells, and subsequently taking up a faculty position to mentor the next generation.

For students, the field of healthcare is teeming with breakthrough innovations, all you need is the patience and perseverance to stand out with your research !

Sumit, Your background?

I was born in Sagar and raised in Jabalpur, MP. My father worked in the Department of Defense Audit, GOI so we were always loosely associated with the army and Jabalpur being the largest defense base of the country because of its central location. I started my pre-schooling in Sagar in the Mahar Regimental Centre School and then continued in Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1, Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur. Being brought up in a defense-related environment had a great impact on me and I can still differentiate my general behavior from my peers due to those formative years. I got interested in biotechnology very early in my school days when in 7th class I read an article about the same in the newspaper. When a teacher once asked us in the class if we have heard of biotechnology, I was the only one knowing about it. I think I knew very early that science is where I belong. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I was good at studies and though I wanted to study biology in +2, as all parents wanted their son to become an engineer as it’s an easy career, I was forced to take Maths too. So, I was one of those few who studied Math and Biology together. After +12, I was not sure what to do, my parents and teachers wanted me to be a doctor as I had topped the subject with flying colors. But, I neither wanted to be a doctor nor an engineer. My chemistry teacher suggested a Biotechnology course to me as she knew my interest and hence I went ahead with a BSc in Biotechnology. All my classmates, friends, teachers and neighbors were shocked by this decision, because “who does BSc?”. During my BSc, I was confused again as all my classmates and friends were preparing for MBA and Army exams. I also prepared for MBA and aced the entrance test. But I also wrote an MSc entrance exam which I topped without any preparation, as I always did in science olympiads in my school. I actively thought for the first time in my life about my career choice and it was very clear to me that if I stay in science, even if I don’t do much, I will always be acing it. So, I left the thought of doing an MBA and joined MSc in Biotechnology. After that, I could easily steer through my choices and got admission in the PhD program at the Center for Biomedical Engineering at IIT Delhi/ AIIMS. 

What were the drivers that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

My science teachers during my +2 were my biggest influences as surprisingly. They were all PhD holders (Dr. Madhuri Patki and Dr. Umarani Gupta), which was not a requirement to be a PGT in KVs. Then, Prof. Jaishree Naidu who taught us Biotechnology and Prof. Anjali Bajpai (Chemistry) had a great influence on me and in developing my interest in Science. Interestingly, all my key influencers have been these amazing women in Science. 

The biggest influence on me was Dr. R.J. Krupadam who was my first scientific mentor during my MSc dissertation at National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur. He taught me how to do scientific research and my interest rocketed towards research. 

After joining IIT Delhi, for the first time, I realized my interest and capability in teaching during my PhD. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

After my master’s dissertation at NEERI, as I liked my mentor and work, I continued for my PhD. But later on, I realized that environmental engineering is not my calling and I wanted to be associated with the fields of biomedical engineering/ biotechnology.  Thus, I applied and got admitted to the Centre for Biomedical Engineering at IIT Delhi. While at IIT Delhi, I knew that I wanted to be a Professor in one of the IITs. So, I worked in the same direction under the guidance of all my amazing mentors.

I focused on my research and actively took part in student mentoring. During all my positions after that, I made sure that I honed my skills for getting a faculty position in IITs. I started applying at the right time for these positions as the recruitment process is very long and takes more than a year after application. 

I qualified both GATE and NET exams and with my GATE scholarship, I pursued my PhD. My PhD was focused on development of tissue engineering-based strategies for regeneration and development of in-vitro disease models. During my PhD, I received different travel awards and research awards and grants from different government agencies and industry. I was also selected for DST-SFI exchange program to work at CURAM at NUI Galway. Ireland. CURAM is the highest funded biomedical device innovation institute in Europe. 

After my PhD, I joined The NIH Tissue engineering resource center at Tufts University (only 2 in the US), Boston for my Postdoc. At Tufts, I worked on a NIH sponsored consortium project called “Rebuilding a Kidney”. The project was being carried around the world and we were working towards development of tissue engineered kidney constructs using organoids generated from human induced pluripotent stem cells, that can be used to replace damaged and diseased kidneys in patients.

I then moved to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre (CCHMC) where I later took up a research faculty position in the Division of Orthopedic Surgery with affiliation from the College of Medicine, The University of Cincinnati. My work at CCHMC revolved around development of 3D printed and 3D-bioprinted implants for orthopaedic regeneration, which we were testing in large animal models (pig). Simultaneously, we were working on understanding the pathophysiology of avascular necrosis of femoral head in pediatric patients which is a poorly understood disease in terms of its progression. We also focused on development of a minimally invasive injectable biomaterial system for treatment of this disease in pediatric patients as total hip replacement is generally not recommended in case of kids as they are growing. 

Finally, I moved to IIT Mandi as an Assistant Professor in the BioX Centre. 

How did you get your first break? 

It was through a professional contact during my PhD. 

Making contacts is a big part in both the industry and academia. My PhD supervisor Dr. Sourabh Ghosh was instrumental in introducing me to the best in the field and as I moved to the US, I have always been focused on developing contacts with the leaders in the field during meetings and conferences. My interview panel chair for my current position actually knew me personally from my first year of PhD. 

Hard work and perseverance with a smart approach is what worked for me. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Very high competition, as India is producing lakhs of PhDs though academic jobs, especially in IITs are in single digits. You have to differentiate yourself from the crowd through your research career. Participate in award competitions, present in conferences to increase your visibility in the field. 

Challenge 2: Tedious and non-transparent recruitment processes prevailing in all government sector jobs. So, you have to work hard on your applications and apply for each and every vacancy. 

Where do you work now? 

I am working as an Assistant Professor at IIT Mandi. 

What problems do you solve?

My primary job is teaching and research. My research focuses on orthopedic tissue engineering and development of 3D printed/ bio-printed implants. 

What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?

Teaching- you acquire it through experience and building your knowledge base by reading about the subject. 

Research and Mentoring- You have to be personally dedicated to each project and each student to understand their motivation.

What’s a typical day like?

Includes classroom teaching, research mentoring and administrative responsibilities. 

What is it you love about this job? 

Training the new generation and having your own research program 

How does your work benefit society? 

As I am into teaching, my work majorly focuses on building and coaching the next generation. My research is heavily translational and thus I give back to society in terms of innovation. 3D-bioprinted tissues and organs are the future of medicine where a diseased or damaged tissue will be printed using the patient’s own cells. I personally specialize in developing injectable and 3D-bioprintable biomaterial systems that can take up the loads on bones and at the same time help them to regenerate. As my work translational, I work in collaboration with surgeons and hospitals. During my PhD, I worked with both Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Ophthalmic Surgery at AIIMS, New Delhi. As I am back to India now, I am trying to establish collaborations with neighboring AIIMS, Bilaspur and PGIMER, Chandigarh.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

During my PhD, I developed a lab model for understanding a type of corneal blindness which is very prevalent in India but not other parts of the world. I had a hard time publishing the study as international people just couldn’t relate to the work. But finally it was accepted in a nature journal in a record 14 days. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Always follow your passion. If you are doing what you are good at, you will always be on top. 

Future Plans?

There are a lot of plans, from writing both scientific and non-fiction books, to building my research program and translating my work into start-ups.