Dr. Phani Shilpa Pothapragada, alumnus of the Department of Biochemistry (MSc Biochemistry 2014-2016), School of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad (UoH) is selected as a Schmidt Science Fellow 2023. Making her mark as one of 32 fellows selected worldwide from over 360 highly accomplished candidates, she also happens to be the first one to have been picked from an Indian institution (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Hyderabad).

Dr. Phani Shilpa Pothapragada

Schmidt Science Fellows is a postdoctoral research award, delivered by Schmidt Futures in partnership with The Rhodes Trust to exceptional early career scientists across the world, with an aim to use interdisciplinary science to solve world’s pressing problems. The selected fellows are awarded $100,000 a year for up to two years to carry interdisciplinary research, that marks a pivot from their doctoral studies, at a lab of their choice anywhere in the world. As a Schmidt Science Fellow, Shilpa will have access to mentoring from renowned senior scientists and will attend Global Meetings that focus on training the fellows in exploring both cutting-edge science as well as learn from leaders in policy, business and technologies.

During her PhD at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Hyderabad, Shilpa studied the underlying mechanisms that determined how normal epithelial cells recognize and eliminate any transformed, potentially cancerous cells from the tissue. Specifically exploring the role of tissue mechanics in determining the outcome of this defence mechanism, she discovered that pathological stiffening of the extracellular matrix leads to a loss in the defence against HRAS oncogene-transformed cells. Her work served as an explanation for how tissue fibrosis could lead to a high incidence of cancer, and was published in Nature Communications. Given the impact of this work, the article also got featured in Nature Communications’ “Focus on Cancer” collection. She has presented her work at multiple international conferences, and has been awarded the EMBO Travel Grant and the TIFR-Infosys Leading Edge Travel Grant to facilitate the same.

As a Schmidt Science Fellow, she intends to pivot to development of bioengineered tools to study female reproductive health and utilize them to develop new-age diagnostics and therapeutics for related disease conditions. She is working with an Academic Council mentor to identify, and discuss with, potential labs where she can contribute to the advent of physiologically relevant research models that capture the complexity of the female reproductive system, thereby making an impact on women’s health outcomes.

As she ventures onto this new endeavour, Shilpa also fondly remembers her days at the Department of Biochemistry, School of Life Sciences and University of Hyderabad, that shaped her interests in pursuing a career in scientific research. The interactions with the faculty and the exposure to diverse research areas broadened her horizons and nurtured a holistic understanding of scientific inquiry, and the vibrant community of the University was crucial in shaping her sense of self.