Meet Research Grant Recipient: Sithara Thomas

Sithara Thomas is the recipient of the Thomas J. Tinlin Chair of Research for $50,000.

BAF: Please tell us your background, where you are from, schooling, etc.

ST: I am proud to call myself a native of Kerala, India.  I pursued my undergraduate education in Medical Laboratory Technology, completing a rigorous 4-year program at Govt. Medical College, Trivandrum. Driven by my passion for medical research, I went on and pursued post-graduation in Medical Biochemistry with first rank and gold medal from Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), a renowned institution known for its excellence in medical studies.

Continuing my journey in the field of research, I joined CSIR-NIIST, Trivandrum, Kerala, India, where I was awarded a prestigious fellowship by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), indicating the recognition of my potential and dedication to the field. Under the esteemed guidance of Dr. P. Nisha, I successfully completed my PhD in July 2019, making significant contributions to the field of colorectal cancer.

After earning my doctorate, in September 2020, I took up a position as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. This experience allowed me to expand my horizons, collaborating with esteemed researchers in a thriving academic environment. Continuing my pursuit of excellence, since November 2021, I have been working as a post-doctoral research fellow at Dr. Peeyush Thankamani Pandit’s Lab in the Department of Neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School, University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston, situated in the bustling city of Houston, Texas, USA. This role has provided me with invaluable opportunities to contribute to cutting-edge research in the field of neurosurgery.

BAF: What led you to become involved with brain aneurysm research?

ST: After joining Dr. Pandit’s lab at UTHealth Houston, I had the opportunity to interact with Neurosurgeons actively treating patients with aneurysms and subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). Through these interactions, I gained valuable insights into the challenges faced by clinicians while treating SAH patients. It became evident that the loss of Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) integrity is a major primary concern, contributing to poor clinical outcomes and progressive neurodegeneration. Regrettably, no effective therapies currently exist to specifically target BBB repair. These observations inspired the development of a proposal aimed at understanding the molecular underpinnings of BBB damage after SAH and identifying mechanisms to facilitate BBB repair. The ultimate goal is to contribute to the development of effective and targeted therapies to address this critical issue.

BAF: In the simplest terms, what is the purpose of your project?

ST: Since brain vessels are the primary tissue affected after SAH, this project will first focus on determining the SAH-induced genetic changes in the blood-brain barrier (BBB) genes. Next, employing a genetic strategy, we will attempt to induce the expression of BBB genes in the SAH-affected brain to facilitate BBB repair.

BAF: In the simplest terms, what do you hope will change through your research findings?

ST: Through my research findings, I aspire to create a transformative impact in the field of BBB injury after SAH. My primary objective is to uncover novel insights and understand the underlying genetic mechanisms, ultimately contributing to advancements in treating BBB repair following SAH. With these discoveries, I aim to pave the way for more effective treatments for SAH, leading to improved patient outcomes. This research endeavors to advance the fundamental knowledge of BBB injury and make a lasting impact on the search for therapeutic targets or strategies for BBB repair.

BAF: Why is the funding you are receiving through the Brain Aneurysm Foundation so important?

ST: Apart from being a financial resource, I believe BAF research grant is a great honor to receive and encourages the confidence in me to my work. The funding enables me to conduct rigorous scientific investigations, support laboratory work, collect and analyze data, and participate in conferences and scientific meetings. By receiving BAF research grant, I can get the opportunity to interact with vibrant researchers and their projects, fostering collaboration and I believe it is a great opportunity for me to be a part of a dynamic research community focused on advancing our understanding and conquering the challenges posed by brain aneurysm and SAH. Also, the findings in the BAF grant proposal will help me in expanding my research ideas and can be the strong base for my future federal grant ideas that could help me to achieve my dream, an independent researcher.

Pictured above is Sithara’s research poster, “Elucidation of Role of HDAC2 in Epigenetic Repression of Blood Barrier Genes During Subarachnoid Hemorrhage (SAH) in Mice: Protective Effect of Overexpression of its Target (ZIC3)