Affiliation(s): Laval University
Dr. Rangachari trained as a molecular and cellular immunologist under the supervision of Dr. Josef Penninger in Toronto and Vienna and Dr. Vijay Kuchroo at Harvard Medical School. He was interested in studying the autoimmune mechanisms driven by T cells. During his postdoc, he focused his attention on these mechanisms in the context of MS, which has a very high rate of incidence in Canada. In particular, he studied the role of "immune checkpoint" molecules in reducing T cell inflammation in mouse models of MS. In recognition of his contributions to MS research, he received the prestigious "EMD Serono Canada and endMS Network Transitional Career Development Award" ($500,000K ; 2011-16). As an independent researcher at Laval University since 2013, he has developed a research program focused on the role of the adaptive immune system in the secondary progressive (SP) phase of MS. He is motivated by the fact that approximately 40% of MS patients develop a SP phase of MS, yet treatment options are limited. Also, despite substantial clinical evidence that lymphocytes are implicated on SPMS, the number of available animal models to study it are limited. A FRQS Junior-1 scholar since 2014, Dr. Rangachari has generated one of the few animal models that can allow researchers to study the role of T cells in SPMS. Intriguingly, the frequency of mice that transition to the SP phases is very similar to that seen in humans. Thus, there is now the ability to dissect and study the molecular and cellular mechanisms that drive SPMS.
How did you become interested in MS research? What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?
Some might argue that my interest in MS research began way back in the 1980s when I participated several times in the MSSOC's Readathon program! I believe my parents still have the stuffed animal that I received for my efforts. As an "adult", I became interested in MS research as I was completing my Ph.D studies in 2006. I had trained as a cellular immunologist with a specific interest in autoimmune diseases. As MS is an autoimmune disease with a very high rate of incidence in Canada, it was logical for me to want to better understand the ways in which it is regulated by the immune system.
What do you enjoy most about doing research and what are some of the challenges you face?
Discovering something new that literally no-one else in the world knows is an exhilarating feeling, especially when it has the possibility of one day helping people with diseases such as MS. I also enjoy interacting with people from many different countries and backgrounds. Research can definitely be frustrating at times - experiments don't always give clear results, which takes you back to the drawing board. However, I like to think that my 35 years as a diehard fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs has taught me a thing or two about perseverance!
Describe the importance and level of collaboration in your research?
In 21st century science, collaboration is essential to generate meaningful findings. This is especially the case for a complex disease such as MS that involves numerous factors such as genetics, diet, nervous system damage and immune disturbances. As a basic researcher, I am setting up collaborations with MS clinicians in Quebec City and the neighboring city of Lévis so as to test our ideas on cells derived from people living in MS. We also work with immunologists at Harvard and pathologists in Europe to better understand how our protein of interest affects mice with MS-like disease.
How important is the support from the MS Society in enabling you to conduct research?
The support of the MS Society is essential both for my research and more generally for MS research in Canada. Thanks to the MS Society, we have continued to be leaders in the study of this disease. As someone who has been funded almost continuously by the MS Society since 2007 - first as a postdoctoral fellow, then as an independent researcher - the Society's support has been essential to the success of my program. A pretty good return on the money I raised through the Readathon way back when!
If you could ask one question to a person living with MS that would help you design your study, what would it be?
I would like to learn more about the aspects of living MS other than mobility issues. Most of our animal models are able to give information about mobility, balance and vision, but are less effective in modeling cognitive, bladder and other issues. Getting this information could allow us to develop better models than can target all aspects of MS.