Dr. Arinjay Banerjee is a new postdoctoral researcher and Michael G. DeGroote Fellow at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research (IIDR). He is collaborating with IIDR Principal Investigator Dr. Karen Mossman on a unique project that aims to better understand the relationship between bats and emerging viruses that cause serious disease in humans and agricultural animals.
1. Tell me about yourself. What brought you to McMaster?
I am originally from India but I now call Canada my home. I literally fell in love with the people here; I married the love of my life and she is from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I completed my PhD at the University of Saskatchewan in collaboration with VIDO-InterVac, studying how bats regulate infections with viruses under the supervision of Dr. Vikram Misra. Together, we established this field of science in Canada to study how bats can resist virus-mediated clinical disease. This formed the crux of my doctoral thesis. During my PhD, I connected with Dr. Karen Mossman, one of the leading researchers in the field of antiviral cell signalling. Together with Dr. Mossman, I wanted to initiate studies on bats to further explore how antiviral responses in bats differ from humans. This, of course, is in collaboration with a very unique resource at Mac – a captive bat colony maintained by Dr. Paul Faure.
2. Describe your educational experience prior to coming to McMaster.
I completed my PhD in Microbiology from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. I have also been selected as a ZIBI scholar to attend a summer training program in Berlin, Germany. Right after I finished my Master’s project at the University of Saskatchewan, I traveled to the University of Sydney in Australia to complete an externship on One Health. I am very interested in the concept of One Health that unites human, animal and environment health. During my PhD, I served as the elected Secretary General for Students for One Health, the student chapter of the international One Health Commission chartered in Washington, DC.
3. Tell me more about the work that you are currently involved with at the IIDR.
I am working with Dr. Karen Mossman and also collaborating with Dr. Paul Faure. My area of interest is emerging zoonotic viruses, and I am particularly intrigued by bats and their ability to control infection with viruses such as Ebola virus, Marburg virus, SARS and MERS coronaviruses, to name a few. I believe that we have a lot to learn from bats and that we may be able to harness some of this knowledge to identify therapeutic targets and/or strategies in humans and agricultural animals.
4. Why is your area of work important?
75% of emerging diseases have an animal origin. SARS caused a global pandemic in 2003 and we lost about forty individuals in Canada. Bats are speculated to be reservoirs of SARS coronavirus and several viruses of zoonotic potential. However, bats themselves do not display clinical signs of disease. My work will enable us to understand how bats control virus infections and develop treatment strategies for other mammals including humans. I also want to identify factors such as nutritional and reproductive stress that may facilitate the spillover of viruses from bats to other mammals.
5. What are your plans for the future?
My hope for the future is to investigate multiple bat species and the viruses they harbour. I would like to actively collaborate with researchers and affected communities in other parts of the world to identify viruses with zoonotic potential. I also want to decipher the plethora of adaptations that bats have evolved to control virus propagation. Bats are very neglected in terms of the antiviral secrets that they carry and I hope to change that.