Taking Charge of Your Health

I’m Pravitt Gourh, and we are in the Kastner Lab at NIH. I’m working on a disease called systemic sclerosis. It’s an autoimmune disease where the immune system starts attacking our own body instead of protecting us from infections. In some people, it can be a very devastating disease and eventually leading to death Unfortunately, we don’t have any treatment so far. It’s a big need right now to figure out this disease. I was born in northern part of India. I grew up in India and came to United States about 14 years ago. My parents always tell me that right from birth I was a very curious child and would try to open up all my toys to figure out how they used to work. I did not grow up knowing to be a scientist, or a physician-scientist for that matter. I think it was a journey that just certain pieces fell in place. I went to medical school, then I came to United States. to pursue a graduate degree, and then I joined a lab in Houston, Texas. My mentor was Dr. Frank Arnett. I started working with him. I got intrigued. I wanted to understand this disease better so that we can help the patients better, and here I am. And we are doing a very big study in the African-American systemic sclerosis patients — it’s the biggest study of its kind — to better understand the disease, because the African-American systemic sclerosis patients tend to have a much more severe disease than any other population that we know of. If you can understand the genetics — because we feel that that has a role to play — maybe it can lead to a treatment or a cure for this disease. We all know about the DNA makes usthat makes us. And if some people carry certain misspellings in the DNA, these misspellings can lead to higher risk of a disease.
I love this job because I’m a physician-scientist and I get to see patients, as well as I am able to do research on these individuals. So the way we do things right now is we get a blood sample. It’s a regular blood tube that would get drawn in a doctor’s office. And then from that blood tube, we can extract DNA. Because of the cutting-edge technology that we have, we have these arrays that are there, where you can look up millions of misspellings on a DNA on, like, up to eight or 10 individuals on this small piece of glass. But since these are such tiny objects, what we have to do is, we have to use robotics to load stuff on that. Also, we are using multiple samples. My study is about involving 2,000 individuals. So to help speed things faster, we have these tools that are available which are robotic plate loaders and stuff like that. Also then we use a scanner which has a banner [spelled phonetically] robotic arm. So even when you’re at home at night, if you’ve done the experiments during daytime, it can automatically keep loading and scanning the arrays for you over night, and in the morning when you come, you have the data. I have millions of misspellings of the DNA, and we have about 12 on each glass slide, and there are four glass slides. And the robotic arm is picking up this tray. And we put it on the scanner so that it can scan, and then we’ll have the data to look at and analyze these misspellings. Since we have thousands of samples, and if you had to put all of them individually on a plate it would be very difficult, so this is a robotic arm which has these pipe head [spelled phonetically] tips. And so when Julie [spelled phonetically] hits start right now, it’ll start picking up these tips, go to these plates, which have 384 samples at a time, pick DNA out of them, and put them in this other plate, and then we can use this plate to do our PCR reaction to basically amplify the data to test for the misspellings on the DNA. So right now it’s doing the second plate and putting them in this small 384 well plate [spelled phonetically]. So since you don’t want any contamination, it has to use different tips every time. Now, if you can understand these misspellings of the — on the DNA for systemic sclerosis, then we might be able to better understand what genes are involved, and in that way we can perhaps target that protein. Now, in the long term the goal would be to develop a test that we could use to predict the disease and be able to tell who is going to get the disease and perhaps prevent it from happening in those individuals, or have a treatment for that so that we can stop it at a very early stage. The way it’s progressing nowadays, it is something that has to be done in a more collaborative fashion, with people of different parts of the country. And I’ve worked with people from different parts of the world in the past, had to come together. And it’s not so much where one person alone is sitting in the dark lab by himself trying to figure things out. You know [inaudible] that we are seeing on chromosome 6.
Male Speaker:
Yeah, so this is an [inaudible]. Pravitt Gourh:
So it seems like the chromosome 6 and these are the misspellings of the DNA, and it goes up so high, so that means these are definitely associated with the disease. Would you think so? Male Speaker: Yeah, exactly. Dr. Pravitt: Okay. That’s fantastic. I did not know that I wanted to be a physician-scientist, or a scientist for that matter. And I think working with the right people and having the opportunities and working with the right mentors can lead you to that path. The only important thing is not to give up easily, because you will always have setbacks in life, and I think we should use those as a way to push ourselves further, rather than holdings ourselves back.

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