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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Hosts Fulbright Scholar to Study Effect of Neuropeptides on Stress Disorders

InTouch 4-3-17
In September 2016, Nitish R. Mahapatra, Ph.D., arrived at New York Medical College from Chennai, India, as a Fulbright Scholar to conduct research in the NYMC laboratory headed by Esther L. Sabban, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. Dr. Mahapatra is a professor in the Department of Biotechnology, Bhupat and Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras). Dr. Mahapatra will collaborate with Dr. Sabban on research about the effects of neuropeptides on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Mahapatra’s work at NYMC continues that of his research lab at the IIT Madras, which focuses on how stress factors relate to biomolecules in cardio-metabolic diseases such as hypertension and Type II diabetes.

The overall aim of Dr. Mahapatra’s Fulbright research project is to evaluate the potential of some newly identified neuropeptides as clinically relevant pharmacophores for the treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders including PTSD, depression and anxiety, which constitute up to 13 percent of the global burden of disease.

Drs. Sabban and Mahapatra first met in 2001 while Dr. Mahapatra was studying and working at the University of California, San Diego, and have maintained their connection through professional conferences over the years. Since Dr. Sabban’s lab has become well known for its work on PTSD, Dr. Mahapatra was eager to collaborate following discoveries at his own lab in India on new neuropeptides with potential for clinical applications in stress-related psychiatric disorders.

The two are working on a study at NYMC, “Effects of Naturally-Occurring Neuropeptides on Stress and Behavior.”

“It is particularly fortuitous to have an esteemed colleague whose discoveries have contributed significantly to the molecular biology of neurosecretory vesicles,” said Dr. Sabban. “This is a great opportunity to collaborate in the area of regulation of neurotransmission in stress-mediated impairments such as PTSD.”

Dr. Mahapatra is a recipient of the Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Fellowship Award. The Fulbright award is highly competitive with thousands of applicants vying for the prestigious scholarship. Dr. Mahapatra is one of just three scholars in the fields of health and medicine in India awarded the 2016-17 Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Fellowship Research Award.

“We are seeing encouraging results to date with our research,” said Dr. Mahapatra. “And this is really just the beginning of an exciting collaboration which I expect will continue once I return to India in June 2017.”

Each year, some 8,000 faculty and professionals from 160 countries around the world receive Fulbright Scholar grants for advanced research and university lecturing in the United States.

“This fellowship has enabled us to expand our work in new directions,” Dr. Sabban added.