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PhD candidate Mohona Gupta seeks answers in retinal degenerative disease

Research is a ‘fun jigsaw puzzle’ for this Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences student

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

October 26, 2020

Mohona Gupta, PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, moved to Massachusetts from Kolkata, India, in 2018 to attend UMass Medical School. It was the first time she had ever left her hometown, her family and her house for more than a few days.

“This was a drastic transition for me, moving to a new continent,” said Gupta, who is studying in the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences. “I was brought up in a joint family. At any point of time, in our big house, there were always at least a dozen people engaging and having fun. We had a huge library in our basement. I grew up amidst books and people.”

Gupta’s interest in science began in her multifamily house, reading and exploring new topics with her relatives. She went on to receive her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology at the University of Calcutta in India. She is now in her third year of PhD research in the GSBS. 

“I never had a ‘eureka’ moment or an ‘aha’ moment when I realized that science was it. It came easy to me; I understood the syntax and the pitch easily and could connect with it. Research is a fun jigsaw puzzle—you choose your puzzles among the gigantic cohort of problems, gather clues by reading literature, and finally solve the puzzle by your experiments,” Gupta said.

Her passion for research and education was also influenced by her parents, as her mother was a teacher and her father a professor of economics. In 2010, Gupta lost her father to colon cancer.

“In every way he was my superhero, he was my friend and my confidant. Everyone was, and still is, super fond of him. He left behind a strong impact on who I would become. I know he would be proud of me going into science and disease research.”

Working in the gene therapy lab of Hemant Khanna, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmology & visual sciences, Gupta researches molecular mechanisms of inherited retinal degenerative diseases to devise effective therapeutic strategies. Her project focuses on X-linked Retinitis Pigmentosa, a condition in which patients gradually lose vision with age. She is tracking gene expression patterns to identify a cause and treatment options.

“Our department is very robust. We are constantly working with clinicians and doctors,” Gupta said. “Collaboration and interprofessional interactions are priorities for us.”

COVID-19 has brought about new challenges and hurdles for many scientists. Through laboratory protocol changes and new campus policies, she said it is important to adapt and find solutions, as scientists do.

“Given the stress of the pandemic, I was enlightened to my purpose, which is to give back to the scientific community. Even if I can touch the life of one person, I will be grateful,” she said. “My parents always told me that the success of my life will not be measured by the honors and awards but by how many lives I change. When one’s passion becomes one’s profession, it becomes a gift and I am grateful for this gift of mine.”

The Student Spotlight series features students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Graduate School of Nursing and School of Medicine. For more information on UMass Medical School and how to apply, please visit the Prospective Students page.