Biophysical Society Bulletin | October 2019

Biophysicist in Profile

Trushar Patel Areas of Research

Institution University of Lethbridge

Biomolecular interactions, host-viral com- munication, medicinal biophysics, integrated approach


Trushar Patel is the Tier II Canada Research Chair in RNA & Protein Biophysics at the University of Lethbridge. Like many scientists, he has moved across the world in pursuit of education and discovery, from his hometown of Derol, in Gujarat, India, to Alberta, Canada. His research focus is to understand the structural features and functional significance of viral nucleic acids, with the long-term goal of advancing treatment options for viral infections.

Trushar Patel

Trushar Patel was born and raised in a small village in India— Derol, in the state of Gujarat. His father was an accountant for the government of Gujarat and his mother was a primary school teacher. She wanted him to follow in her footsteps and be a teacher, an idea he was not too keen about. “Ironically, I teach at the university now and she is pretty happy about it,” he shares. As a child, he was interested in either becoming a lawyer or a scientist and as he reached high school, he became particu- larly interested in studying biology and physics. In his home- town, he was only able to attend school through grade 10, so at the age of fifteen, he moved to a boarding school in the nearby city of Vadodara to complete his high school educa- tion. Following high school, he moved again to Vidhyanagar, where he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biotechnology at Sardar Patel University. Patel wanted to diversify his skillset, so he sought out a PhD program in biophysics. “The concept of applying physical methods to unravel biological processes and study biomol- ecules was very tempting. I applied for a PhD program in Dr. Stephen Harding’s laboratory at the University of Notting- ham in the United Kingdom, where I learned applications of light scattering and analytical ultracentrifuge to investigate therapeutic polysaccharides,” he says. Once he completed his PhD, he joined a structural biology group led by Joerg Stetefeld at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. He spent about five years in the lab as a postdoctoral fellow. “During my tenure there, I received two postdoctoral fellowships: Manitoba Institute of Child Health and Canadian Institutes for Health Research, each for two years,” he shares. “As a postdoctoral fellow, I began my career studying human extra- cellular matrix proteins using X-ray crystallography and light scattering. In 2008, Dr. Sean McKenna’s group, who mainly works on RNA molecules, joined the University of Manitoba. I got excited about his research activities, especially working with RNA (as I already had experience working with polysac- charides and proteins) and started communications with him.

As a result, we used biophysical tools to study West Nile and Adenovirus viral RNAs.” Following his postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Manitoba, Patel successfully applied for the Marie Skłodows- ka-Curie fellowship from the European Union to integrate his structural biophysics background with cell biology & mass spectrometry and joined Neil Hotchin’s group at the University of Birmingham, UK. For a few months after his postdoctoral studies ended, he could not begin a permanent position at the University of Lethbridge due to financial restructuring in the Province of Alberta. “Subsequently, I received a term position for 16 months, followed by another term position for 3 years, and finally a tenure-track contract as a Canada Research Chair in RNA & Protein Biophysics in November 2017,” he explains. “I was lucky enough to jump from one contract to another with- out completing the entire tenure of these contracts.” One of the major challenges of his career thus far was not having enough funding support as a PhD student, “like many other trainees across the world,” he says. “I recall working in a superstore during evenings and on weekends to make ends meet (and save a bit for tuition fees). However, this was not as difficult as not having a job at all, after a productive post- doctoral tenure, due to financial challenges and restructuring encountered by a particular funding agency. The interesting thing about time is that it never stays the same forever: both a good time and a bad time have an expiry date!” With consistent effort on his part to secure a faculty position, plus support from the University of Lethbridge administrative and research faculties and his family, he was eventually able to secure a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) position, as well as research funding from federal and provincial agencies. “The main objective of our laboratory is to understand the structural features and functional significance of viral nucle- ic acids. We mainly focus on flaviviruses and have recently

October 2019



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