02 Mar 2021
Understanding genetics of ageing and age-related disorders are Research Officer Chandana Kanchibhotla’s main research interests. With a background in biotechnology, Chandana’s ultimate hope is for her research area to gain a better understanding of ageing from a genetics perspective – at the molecular level.
How did you get into researching the ageing brain?
I am from Hyderabad in India, where I completed my Masters in Biotechnology from Osmania University. My interest in genetics started during my time at high school, largely thanks to a passionate biology teacher, who inspired my strong interest in the life sciences. As a result, my family encouraged me to pursue higher studies in my area of interest. I have always been fascinated about how chromosomes and genes control our life. Following my studies in India, and before moving to Australia, I worked as a lecturer in Genetics and Biotechnology for undergraduate students. I conducted both theoretical and practical classes in molecular biology to the students.
After moving to Sydney - and with my husband’s encouragement to continue pursuing higher studies - I sought out opportunities in neurogenetics and ageing. In 2011, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Dr Karen Mather and Professor Perminder Sachdev, who guided and supported me to pursue my Masters (Research) at CHeBA. I received a Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration (DCRC) top up scholarship to pursue my studies. During my Masters, I also received financial support from CHeBA. After completion, I was offered an incredible opportunity to work as a Research Assistant in the Genetics and Genomics Group led by Dr Karen Mather. I now very proudly hold a Research Officer position with this Group.
Did you experience a ‘defining moment’ which led you to this field?
My paternal grandmother suffered dementia in her early 80s and passed away in 2004. My parents, being her primary carers, suffered enormous stress and emotional pain taking care of her.
I witnessed first-hand how devastating and difficult it is to care for people living with dementia.
My grandmother was a very active and caring person throughout our childhood so it was extremely painful for us to see her suffer. This led me to think about the importance of studying neuroscience. With my already established interest in genetics, I then realised neurogenetics and ageing was the area I wanted to study.
Do you have any personal interests or activities which are protective behaviours against cognitive decline?
I love reading books. From short stories, novels to autobiographies, I really enjoy reading – particularly any book related to Telugu literature. Telugu is a beautiful south Indian language and is known as the “Italian of the east”. Telugu is one of the languages in the eastern world which has words that end with vowels just like those in Italian. Apart from listening to music in my spare time, I regularly chat with my family. Complex mental activity and social connection are both considered protective factors against cognitive decline. During the COVID lockdown I also had the opportunity to chat via video chat with old friends I hadn’t been connected with for a very long time. Although I have very limited time for exercise with two young kids, I currently try to have regular walking sessions of at least 30 minutes a day as physical inactivity is a known modifiable risk factor for cognitive decline.
What are you currently researching?
Currently I am looking at the heritability of gene expression data in older adults, using data from CHeBA’s Older Australian Twins Study (OATS) cohort. Beyond this, as a Research Officer, I have a variety of responsibilities. I maintain a set of Master files of the various genetic data available, as well as manage long-term data storage at UNSW, and assist my supervisor to work with various data files to select samples to send for various genetic assays - such as DNA methylation and whole genome sequencing. Whole genome sequencing is determining complete sequencing of an individual’s DNA (genetic data).
Why is your research important?
Neurogenetics and ageing is a critical area to study. The recent advancements in genetics will help to understand the underlying mechanisms of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Eventually, this research area will help enable earlier detection of mild cognitive impairment and dementia as well as prevention strategies and effective therapeutics.
CHeBA has an excellent work culture. Its multi-disciplinary team is very collaborative and friendly. My colleagues are extremely supportive and helpful. I love working at CHeBA.
What is the ultimate hope you have for your research?
My hope is to gain a better understanding of ageing from a genetics perspective at the molecular level.
This article was written during the COVID-19 self-isolation period. Chandana Kanchibhotla found that having video calls with her family and friends she hadn’t been in touch with for a long time supported her mental resilience and kept her feeling socially connected while physically isolated. She also tried to learn few old traditional songs which her mother usually sings during video calls with her.
Sri Chandana Kanchibhotla works on the three major cohorts of CHeBA, the Sydney Centenarian Study, Older Australian Twins Study (OATS) and the Sydney Memory and Ageing Study (MAS). Currently, she works as a Research Officer in CHeBA’s Genetics and Epigenomics Group, with Group Leader Dr Karen Mather. In recognition of her work during her Masters, Chandana was awarded the Gordon Parker Award by the School of Psychiatry for the Best Student Paper in 2014.