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Tapan Sharma

This month, Xiingchen Liu sat down with Tapan Sharma, Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Imbalzano Lab. Read Tapan's story below.

Neha Samant

Diversity Profile of the Month!


Meet Tapan Sharma, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Imbalzano Lab. He joined the lab in Sept 2016 prior to which he finished a doctoral degree from India. Apart from science, he loves playing badminton, hiking, and cooking. Recently, he started learning how to play a guitar.

What set you on a trajectory of becoming a scientist?

I was an inquisitive child growing up. I had a special love for Mathematics and Physics. Biology was always challenging to me. When I entered college in 2005, I took Biotechnology as a major. I was fascinated when I first read about the preciseness of DNA cleavage by restriction enzymes which is the basis of molecular biology. There was no looking back after that. I had uncovered the mysterious world of biology. After finishing my Masters, I decided to pursue further research and thus became a scientist. 

Are there any setbacks you faced on your journey and what did you do to overcome them?

I qualified a few entrance exams when applying for a master’s degree. Due to less exposure to the internet, I missed out on joining the university of my choice (JNU), because the deadline had passed by the time I read the email. I finished my master’s from another university and then later qualified another exam to finally join a Ph.D. program at JNU.

What is your current research focus?

My research in the Imbalzano Lab focusses on the exploring the role of SWI/SNF chromatin remodelers in the development of skeletal muscle tissue. The SWI/SNF complex consists of multiple subunits, of which the ATPase subunit is a key component. The ATPases, BRG1 and BRM, have other domains in the protein structure apart from the ATP-hydrolyzing domain. I am exploring the role of functional bromodomains present in BRG1 and BRM in the context of skeletal muscle development.

How would you describe your research?

Skeletal muscle is a wonderful model system to study cellular differentiation and tissue development due to the abundant availability of the tissue in an organism and the ease of scoring phenotypic changes associated with differentiation. Our research has identified a crucial function of the ATPase bromodomains in genomic targeting of the SWI/SNF complex to muscle-specific gene regulatory regions. We have also uncovered the underlying cell signaling pathway that connects external cues to responses at the molecular level.

How does your research apply to the broader world and why is it important outside of the scientific community?

Skeletal muscle is the largest tissue in the human body and its coordination with the skeletal system is important for locomotion. Irregularities in muscle development can cause disorders like muscular dystrophies, myositis, rhabdomyosarcomas, etc. Epidemiological data from CDC suggests 20-25 males per 100,000 births every year in United States are affected by muscular dystrophies. Better understanding of the regulation of skeletal muscle development could provide insights into generation of therapeutics to remedy such disorders. My current work has explained the role of SWI/SNF bromodomains in context of skeletal myogenesis.

Why did you choose your current lab and/or UMass Chan?

During my Ph.D., I worked on elucidating the role of a distant member of the SWI/SNF family of chromatin remodelers in cell cycle regulation and transcriptional regulation. Tony’s lab has been a pioneer in understanding the role of SWI/SNF chromatin remodelers in contexts of cancer, development, and gene regulation. Since I had a relevant research background, I reached out to Tony with an interest to pursue postdoctoral research.

What is the coolest thing about your research?

Like I said, skeletal muscle is an excellent model to study cellular differentiation. When provided with the correct differentiation environment, mononuclear myocytes divide extensively, elongate and fuse together to form multi-nucleated myotubes within 2 days. The phenotype is so evident that it can be seen under a simple bright white microscope without looking for differentiation markers and performing high-end characterization. The coolest thing is that if you allow the myotubes to continue differentiating for 5-7 days, you can see them twitching on the culture plate with your naked eyes.

What is one thing you would like to achieve while doing your research?

I would like to contribute to the development of some therapeutic that could better the lives of any suffering humans.

What are some of the lessons that you have learned along the way that you would like to share with trainees who recently joined our department?

Have hobbies outside the laboratory. A refreshed mind does better research.

Any advice you wished you had gotten when you first started as a scientist?

While exploring scientific questions is an important aspect of research, collaborating and publishing at regular intervals is also required to boost your interest and confidence. Do not hold on to data. Push it out of the door as soon as possible.

Is there something you would say to your younger self?

You’re going to love the journey ahead.