In early 20th century writings, Indian novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay sought to expose the social inequities of rural Bengali society. So it's perhaps fitting that Prof. Amit Mandal is a big Chattopadhyay fan, because Prof. Mandal has devoted much of his professional life to researching disorders and diseases that disproportionately affect disadvantaged populations.
Today, as Professor of Molecular Medicine and Clinical Proteomics at St. John's Research Institute in Bangalore, India, Amit Mandal is one of the world's foremost scientists using mass spectrometry to pursue proteomics research on everything from hemoglobinopathies, iron deficient anemia and mental disorders, to prostate cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Mandal's scientific interests began at a young age. “In my childhood, in school and at college, I was deeply involved in the Science Club,” he said. “We used to participate in different scientific programs and show common people, for example, how to detect adulteration in food using chemicals found in the home.”
He went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry at the University of Calcutta. Mandal became drawn to a career in science because, as he put it, “I get frustrated doing the same thing every day. Scientific research is the only field where every day you do something new.”
That led to a Master's degree in pure chemistry, followed by a Ph.D in biophysics from the Bose Institute in Calcutta.
“I was inspired in science, basically, by my teachers at the master’s level at university and definitely during my research period in PhD, postdoc,” said Mandal. “I've been fortunate to have good mentors at all levels, in particular, Dr. Padmanabhan Balaram, the director of the Indian Institute of Science, during my second postdoc. He taught me how to speak truth in science – how to criticize my data, to criticize my analysis. Because if I don’t criticize myself, then I cannot convince others of my scientific explanation.”
While at the Bose Institute, Mandal worked on protein-nucleic acid interaction and protein folding using spectroscopic techniques, such as fluorescence, circular dichroism, and nuclear magnetic resonance. When he joined Balaram's laboratory, he hoped to learn more about the use of nuclear magnetic resonance to study biological proteins, but that quickly changed.
“On my first day Dr. Balaram asked me, 'What do you know about mass spec?' So I said, 'I don’t know anything.' I hadn’t seen a mass spectra of any molecule so far. So then he told, 'Then go and learn mass spec',” he recalled, laughing. “That was my entry into mass spec.”
Mandal described his first use of mass spectrometry in 2005 as “a fascinating experience for me.” His mass spectrometry experience grew as he started working on clinical proteomics, mostly with hemoglobin. In 2007, he joined St. John's, a research facility under St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, India, where he began building the structural proteomics laboratory laboratory.
In 2008, Mandal received funding from India's Department of Science and Technology to launch a proteomics project. His relationship with Waters began at that time when he first began using a Waters SYNAPT HDMS Mass Spectrometer equipped with an electrospray ionization source and a MALDI source. The instrumentation is giving Mandal and his research colleagues new insights into the structural changes associated with post-translational modifications of hemoglobin and its variants.
Much of Prof. Mandal's work at St. John's has been focused on understanding the structural biology of hemoglobin as it relates to disorders, such as hemoglobinopathy and iron-deficient anemia.
“We have published two papers that talk about structural perturbation and structure function correlation in hemoglobin variants using isotope exchange based mass spectrometry,” he explained. “I’m also conducting a proteomics project where we are trying to find out any biological signature molecule in patients who attempted suicide and were rescued and brought into St. John’s Medical College emergency department.”
When you add in the work that Mandal and his staff of nine are doing on prostate cancer and multiple sclerosis, it's a very busy laboratory. Away from work, Prof. Mandal enjoys music, sports, politics, and reading.
“I read basically anything,” he said. “I love to read anything that covers politics, that covers literature. Chattopadhyay is my favorite writer, because he addresses social issues around family and religion.”
As the first member of his family to become a scientist and a Ph.D, Amit Mandal is keenly aware of how his work may uncover the mechanisms that underlie blood disorders that afflict millions of people around the world. His favorite author would likely approve.
Looking ahead, Mandal's driving force remains the same. “It’s the joy of solving scientific problems,” he said with a smile. “That is what is most satisfying to me.”