Interview with an MD/PhD Candidate: Introducing Dhiraj Mannar from the Subramaniam Lab

We chat with second-year MD/PhD Candidate and UBCMJ section editor, Dhiraj Mannar, who is actively involved in COVID-19 research!

Here is a picture of me with one of our super cool electron microscopes!

Tell us a little bit about your research project.

My current project involves the structural and biochemical characterization of the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein. SARS-CoV-2 is the causative agent of COVID-19 and relies on a trimeric spike glycoprotein to recognize and enter host cells. Given its essential role in the viral life cycle, the SARS- CoV-2 spike represents a critical target for vaccine and therapeutic antibody design. I work alongside an interdisciplinary team to utilize biophysical techniques such as cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM), along with antibody binding and neutralization assays to characterize the structural basis for SARS-CoV-2 neutralization.

What do you find interesting in this field of research? How did you initially get involved?

COVID-19 research is an exciting, fast-paced, and relevant field of research. I had not initially anticipated that I would be getting involved in this field. Last year our lab made the decision to collectively pivot our efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic given its pressing nature, and its been a great experience that has taken me out of my comfort zone and exposed me to lots of new ideas and techniques.

What does a typical day look like while working on your project?

I am usually in the lab doing wet lab work or working on data analysis and writing from home. Given the extreme rate at which COVID-19 research is progressing, a large portion of my time is spent reading new papers and trying to keep up with the latest developments. As I work in a tightly coordinated interdisciplinary group, I also attend many team meetings throughout the week to keep up to date and maintain a high level of communication.

What advice would you give another student interested in this area of research?

This is an exciting time to get involved, there are many labs currently carrying out important work on various aspects of COVID-19. Science is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and COVID-19 related research is a great example. I would recommend anyone interested in getting involved to embrace collaboration and exposure to new ideas.