About Vijay Vobbilisetty

Vijay is a sophomore majoring in Biomedical Engineering. He will be spending the summer interning at inStem, an autonomous research institute in Bangalore, India. The institute is funded by the Department of Biotechnology and emphasizes collaborative research on stem cell biology. In his project, Vijay will use state-of the-art disease modeling techniques to bridge the gap in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying inherited cardiomyopathies by analyzing the effects of certain genetic mutations on the physiology and function of cardiomyocytes, muscle cells that compose heart tissue. After his undergraduate experience, Vijay would like to continue to pursue his interest in cardiovascular research and go on to medical school.

Back Home, Still Looking Back

There is no doubt this past summer will have a special place in my heart. It played a huge role in solidifying my passion for research and introduced me to some of my now closest friends. Looking back, one thing I did not really touch base with on these blog posts is how my experience in India as an Indian-American was different from some of the experiences of the other SiSA Fellows.

India was an obvious choice for my first truly solo international experience. I visited family members in Andhra Pradesh (a state on the east coast of India) along with my parents a couple times before. As a result, I expected to be able to easily adapt to the Indian environment and have the security of relatives living relatively close by. Little did I know that interning in Bangalore, Karnataka (a state in the other side of the country on the west coast) would be a lot different from my time in Andhra Pradesh, albeit in more good ways than not.

For one thing, the weather was a lot more agreeable. Bangalore may be one of the best places to live in India during the summer for people not used to the heat. That being said, there were definitely those scorching hot days where we did not feel like leaving the lab, but, for the most part, Bangalore weather was rather pleasant.

Furthermore, there were a lot of people my age at inStem, and I am not just talking about the other interns. inStem was house to a great many junior research fellows just a couple years older than me that had just graduated college. Because of this, I was able to experience the summer along with others with similar interests that were willing and had time to hang out outside of the lab. We took any chance we got to go out and explore the city.

Living on campus was very convenient. Everything I needed to survive on my own was pretty much right there, from a source of food for all meals to recreational facilities to work out and have fun! For example, because the gym was so close to my room, I took advantage of that to go pretty much every other day, something I never did back at home. Unlike some of the other SiSA fellows, I had access to a dining hall where I could eat every meal for very cheap, because it was subsidized by the institution.

Another advantage in being Indian-American was that I did not immediately stand out. Like any country, foreigners are often treated differently, especially in shops and restaurants. One time, I let it slip that I was visiting from the United States when I was talking to my barber. Later that day, I found out I was charged twice as much as I was supposed to for that haircut. Never again did I make that mistake.

Language was one thing I didn’t think I would have all that much trouble with. English was relatively common and everyone at inStem spoke English, even though Hindi and Kannada were the more commonly encountered languages in Bangalore. Unfortunately, neither Hindi nor Kannada were languages I was familiar with. My co-interns and sometimes even mentors would tease me in Hindi because of this. Before long though, I got pretty good at understanding them, not because I got any better at Hindi but because I got very adept at reading body language. This one disadvantage quickly turned into quite the party trick. I would constantly catch them off guard by quipping back at them, sometimes even in Hindi. One thing though that I thought was hilarious was how I soon adopted the local accent. When I would call back home, my sister would always make fun of how much my voice had changed. After coming back to the States, though, it seems my voice is back to normal, although the accent leaks back out every now and then.

Overall, I very much enjoyed my time in India, and I hope to visit again someday, whether it’s to research again or to simply site-see, because India is a truly beautiful country everybody should get to experience.

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Reminiscing Till the End

It took me many tries to write this final blog post. Every time I had started writing, it just dawned on me how it would mark the end to this wonderful experience here. I kept pushing it back, trying to squeeze in as much time as I could. I guess there is a limit to how far back I can push this, as here I am, sitting at the airport, writing my last blog post in India.

I have also thought long and hard about what I would talk about or include in this final post. In the end, I felt the best way to mark this ending here would be to go through the many highlights I have experienced this summer (and hopefully even include pictures this time).

Before I officially started my internship at NCBS in Bangalore, I took time to visit family on the other side of the country, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This not only gave me the opportunity to spend time with people I haven’t seen in years, but also the much-needed time to adapt to India’s environment, getting used to the humidity and the heat and the time difference.

One of my favorite memories was going to the beach with the family and experiencing the tides of the full moon.

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Full Moon Tides & Vibes

While I was with my grandparents, I stayed in an area that was on the outskirts of the city. A lot of construction was happening but it definitely changed quite a lot since I last came. One thing, however, that is still the same is my grandparent’s house.

Grandparent's House

Grandparent’s House

View from Above

View of the Colony from a nearby Rooftop

Once I arrived at NCBS, I was in awe of the beauty. It shares its campus with an agricultural school, meaning its house to a plethora of unique flora. Here are a couple of shots of my lab’s building and views from the rooftop of the campus.

Stairs to heading to my Lab

Stairs up to my Lab

Vew from the Top

View from the Rooftop of the Campus

My Lab

The Lab

A couple of weeks into my time in Bangalore, I attended a University of Michigan Alumni Meet, where I dined and mingled with a few Wolverines who settled down in the Bangalore area and others who are interning here for the summer.

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Left to Right: Me, Neel, Chris (the other 2 SiSA Fellows in Bangalore at the time)

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Wolverines in Bangalore! Go Blue!

I also explored other main attractions in the city with other interns in my lab. These incursions into the city included Indiranagar, the ISCON Temple, MG Road, and Commercial Street.

ISCON Temple

ISCON Temple

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A Mosque on MG Road decorated for Eid.

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Commercial Street.

On the whole, though, the time spend at Nandi Hills was beyond extraordinary and will always be one of my most memorable experiences in India. Unlike others, I haven’t had the chance to see many monkeys during my time here in India, so I was very happy to find so many up their in the hills. We also spent a good bit of time just sitting on the cliffy areas to take in the breathtaking views.

Seek Adventure: Enjoying some snacks on the cliffs Chillin on the Cliffs Flower & Mountain Mother with her Child Perspective

While these outings happened on the weekends, during the weekdays I was in the lab. One of the newest and most unique aspect of this project was working with bees. This was my first time working with animals in research, and I had to catch and then dissect them as part of my project. Unfortunately, I am unable to post a video of me in action, but I do have a picture where I had caught two bees in one vial (a truly tedious feat)! All we had to do was drop some sugar water and pollen at the entrance, and a few bees would pop out. We then single (or double, in this case) them out using Falcon Tubes.

20170607_120238Bees x2

I hope you enjoyed this little sneak peak into my time here. This marks an end to a truly unforgettable time in my life. Can’t wait for my next adventure!

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The Last Intern Standing

30/7/17
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As their summers come to an end, you can see the other interns growing more and more anxious as their next school term approaches. They work extra in their last week to make sure to wrap up their projects properly in the day, but during the night we stay up and talk about how much we will miss Bangalore and the whole research paradigm here at NCBS. Working here has truly been a blessing. We were exposed to a research culture not common in India, or maybe anywhere else in the world for that matter. It was great learning about each lab members’ previous experiences, how they ended up at this wonderful place, and how they have utilized this environment to progress their work.

One by one, each of the other interns boarded their flights to get back home, leaving me as the last intern in the lab. The majority of colleges in India give around two months of break during the summer, so most of them went straight back to school right after this internship. I never thought that, in so little time, I would be able to develop such tightly-bound friendships. It was really sad to think this may be the last time I see any of them again.

My research experience was also coming to a close. Unfortunately, we were not able to start any experiments with the flies because of some technical difficulties in obtaining the proper mutants. However, I was able to continue my work with the other side-project and set up crosses for my wild type (mutation free) flies as controls for future work on the caffeine project.

I also had the privilege of shadowing a Surgical Gastroenterologist during my time in Bangalore. He is actually a University of Michigan alumni that I had met earlier in the summer at the UMich Alumni Meet. He graciously allowed me to follow him and observe a couple procedures. I even got the opportunity to learn about their bioengineering department and get the inside scoop of how crucial their department is to the proper functioning of the entire establishment. As a biomedical engineering and pre-medicine student myself, shadowing this doctor at one of the most renowned hospitals in Bangalore really gave me insight into another fascinating field. Can’t wait to see what the future has in store for me yet!

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Time Flies in Bangalore

3/7/17

As the initial part of the bee project comes to an end, we have gained enough preliminary data to move into a different animal model: Drosophila melanogaster, or the common house fly. These insects are quite similar to humans genetically and, as a result, have been very useful in the study of human genetics. However, it takes time to obtain the proper flies with the right mutations, so time just flew by. Overall, it has been an interesting experience learning to handle them. They are not as annoying, almost cute even, when they are contained in vials as compared to when they are flying around your food…

I began helping with another project in the meanwhile, in which I was able to utilize skills from my previous research experiences, while also gaining a better understanding of various molecular biology assays. It is really important to know the basics when you want to delve deeper into something. With this other project, I got to learn the basic molecular biology techniques I haven’t had the chance to study previously.

It was a wonderful opportunity, not only because I got to work with others in the lab but also because I was able to more seamlessly interact with other interns my age. I was even able to get a good picture of a researcher’s path in India. Although there are many similarities, there is one striking difference. From my understanding, a good number of those entering into a career in research may not have had the opportunity to intern and learn more about this career path during their college time. Some enter into their Master’s Degree without ever having worked in the laboratory setting before. Having been working in a research lab since the beginning of my freshman year at the University of Michigan, I was a bit shocked. I am grateful to have this opportunity to explore potential career options and get my foot in the door through fellowships like SiSA. Even though I have experience working with stem cells, this internship at inStem allows me to approach research from a different side. Animal models are crucial to understanding many biological processes and their applications to humans. Experience working with honeybees and flies will go a long way in my future as a researcher. I really look forward to what the next few weeks have in store for me!

**A quick side note is that this post was written about 2 weeks ago, but I hadn’t had the chance to post. To add, the date here, in India, is written with the day first and not the month. Although it doesn’t take long to notice, it takes a while to get used to, especially in regards to expiration dates on food items…

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Buzzing through my time here

4 weeks. It has been a whole four weeks since I first joined the lab here at inStem/NCBS in Bangalore, and it has already been full of adventure. There is absolutely nothing like the feeling you get when are walking into a completely new life, without knowing what to expect. Will I be able to follow along and make something out of this summer here? How will my mentor and other lab members be?

Anyways, I’ll start from the moment I got of my flight. Apparently, the phone I bought earlier in India doesn’t have coverage in Karnataka. As you might imagine, that caught me off guard, like a lot. And the driver from my research institute that came to pick me up didn’t know any of the languages I knew how to communicate in. I could already see my time in Bangalore was going to be…interesting, to say the least.

Despite those minor setbacks, I came to love the campus I will be calling home for the next couple months. A wonderful surprise was that there were many other summer trainees, like me, who are here to explore what research has to offer. It’s always better when there are others to share your experiences with! I quickly began learning about the different projects the people in my lab were working on and shadowed most of them for a couple days each to figure what I’d like to work on.

From the start, I noticed many slight differences in the way research is conducted in India. Obviously, every lab is different, and this environment I am experiencing could be limited to just inStem. I simply loved the way every single person in the lab could rely on each other for guidance and aid in experiments. Plus, each one seemed almost superhuman the way they handled so many different projects simultaneously, and the amount of knowledge they had stored was incredible. Despite my previous experience, I was able to so much from their current work and their experiences in the first week alone. Another neat thing I found out was that these people also work on Saturdays, so when Sunday finally came up, I took my chance to explore the city. That day we roamed around Indiranagar, one of Bangalore’s newest suburbs; took the metro; saw one of the most beautiful temples in Bangalore; and ended the day at the Orion Mall.

The next week went by in pretty much the same manner, following those in the lab with interesting projects. However, that Thursday I had the chance to meet UMich alumni in the Bangalore region at the Arbor Brewing Company, which was established by a Michigan alumni a few years back. I met some pretty extraordinary people, and even some other Wolverines interning in Bangalore for the summer.

In the third week, I began working on my project for the summer: analyzing the effect of caffeine on the bee’s heart. Caffeine is a big part of our diet in the United States, and similarly in India. Although there have been studies on the effects, some positive and some negative, on the brain and behavior, not many consider the direct effects on the heart. With this project, I will get the opportunity to partake in research completely new to me: there is a big difference between working with stem cells and working with bees.

Now, in this fourth week, I have been afforded the unique opportunity to catch and dissect bees!! Catch my next few blog posts for pictures and exciting updates, including tips on how to catch bees without getting stung. Stay buzzing.

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Commencement

This may not be my first trip to India, but both anxiety and excitement rush over me just thinking about the wonderful journey ahead. The Summer in South Asia Fellowship offers me a unique opportunity to independently engross myself in Indian culture and observe and partake in research from a different point of view. Despite having visited family in India a couple times before, I never had the opportunity to actually engage in the community the way I hope to this summer.

What will it be like living on my own in a huge city like Bangalore and in a foreign country? How is the research environment different in India? It is questions like this that I hope to answer during my time there and on this blog, and that is why I applied to the fellowship. When I heard the news that I was selected, I was ecstatic! Not only would I be able to search for answers to those questions, but I would get to do so along with many others.

In Bangalore, I will be working with inStem, a state-of-the-art research institute dedicated to the study of stem cell and regenerative biology. The research I will be aiding in involves understanding how certain genetic mutations, relatively pervasive in the south Indian population, effect the proper functioning of cardiomyocytes, muscle cells that compose heart tissue. I will be staying on the campus of the National Centre for Biological Sciences, so I may even have the opportunity to explore student life in India!

With that, I better end this blog post and get back to packing–my flight leaves in exactly 12 hours!

 

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