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Researcher Spotlight: Anuradhika Puri, Ph.D., 2022 Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellow

Anuradhika Puri PhD

Today marks the 8th annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an opportunity to remind ourselves that further efforts are needed to ensure gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). To celebrate this day, we are shining a spotlight on one of our 2022 Milton Safenowitz fellows and the incredible work she is doing in ALS research.

To find new treatments and a cure for ALS, it’s vital to have a dedicated network of scientists working to advance our understanding of the disease and thinking creatively about solutions.

We are proud to support the development of bright, young researchers – and their innovative ideas – through our Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. Established in memory of Milton Safenowitz by the Safenowitz family, this unique program encourages young scientists to enter and, importantly, remain in the ALS field. After completing this fellowship, more than 75% of awardees stay in ALS research, with many going on to establish their own laboratories and mentor more ALS researchers along the way.

During the 2022 funding cycle, five new Safenowitz fellows were selected from a highly competitive applicant pool, including Dr. Anuradhika Puri, a postdoctoral research associate at Washington University in St. Louis. We talked with her to learn more about her research, as well as her interests outside the lab.

What made you want to focus on ALS research?

When I was approaching graduation, I came across a few interesting articles that inspired me to focus on neurodegenerative disorders. There is a quote: “Patients are waiting,” which motivated me to start working on something that might ultimately improve the wellbeing of our society. Neurological disorders profoundly affect people’s behavior, personality and day-to-day life. When I realized the lack of effective treatments available for people living with ALS, that was the turning point in my career, which resulted in my focus on ALS-related work.

What are the goals of your funded research project?

Currently there is no effective treatment available to prevent the clumping of misfolded TDP-43 and FUS proteins that are involved in ALS and restore the normal function of nerve cells. To counter the negative effects of misfolded protein accumulation, also called aggregation, cells have evolved enzymes called disaggregases. Disaggregases help cells protect themselves by restoring proteins to their proper shapes. Here, my goal is to identify a disaggregase that will dissolve the toxic clumps of TDP-43 and FUS associated with ALS.

Recently it was shown that the enzyme HtrA1 degrades tau protein which clumps up in Alzheimer’s disease. We have hypothesized that HtrA1 may also function to clear toxic clumps of other proteins like TDP-43 and FUS. We are testing this hypothesis to identify the mechanism and investigate if HtrA1 can slow down the process of TDP-43 aggregation that is involved in ALS.

How might your work impact the ALS community?

To develop new treatments, we first need to understand the mechanism of the problem. Under physiological conditions, everything is very complex, and one process has the potential to affect many other processes. Our research helps us understand the in-depth biology of disease-associated proteins, which in the future could help with identifying a treatment for ALS. We also hope that if our hypothesis about HtrA1 proves correct, we will be able to turn this into a new treatment.

What role will this fellowship play in your research efforts?

The fellowship helps support my day-to-day living costs so I can focus on research. It helps me improve my scientific skills in the ALS field and other experimental skill sets. This fellowship will also provide me with the opportunity to attend international conferences, which will allow me to exchange ideas with other researchers in the ALS field. My goal is to use this fellowship to eventually start my own lab where I can further study the mechanisms and possible treatments for ALS.

What do you like most about working in the ALS research field?

I found many challenges while working on my ALS project in the lab. However, through those challenges, I have enjoyed finding ways to overcome them, find alternate strategies and continue to make research progress.

What gives you hope that there will one day be a world without ALS?

I am very hopeful because of the fact that many brilliant minds in the world are working on ALS. I hope that very soon we will have a cure for ALS.

What do you like to do outside of the lab?

When I am not in the lab, I love to spend time with my family and friends. They always are there to support me in my good and bad times.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I want to sincerely thank The ALS Association for providing me with this wonderful opportunity to pursue my career in ALS research. I also want to thank my mentors who have supported me along the way.

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