About Fellow

National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore

National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore

National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore

With a keen interest in biomedical science and an inquiring bent of mind, I stepped into the Mysore Medical College, situated in the state of Karnataka in India, to pursue my MBBS. All through the five and a half years there, neuropsychiatric disorders fascinated me more than any other specialty. It became clear to me that I wanted a career in a field that involves treatment and research of brain related disorders. Sherlock Holmes’ famous quote – “I am a brain, my dear Watson, the rest of me is a mere appendage” in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, best describes my fascination with the brain. I was fortunate to join the National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, for an MD in Psychiatry. The more patients I saw, it became clear to me how little we know about disorders of the brain. This comes from our limited understanding of the basic functioning of the brain – especially those functions that make us ‘human’. Our unique ability to think, feel, act and communicate in a coordinated manner within our social milieu is what makes us human. Not surprisingly, it is these same ‘social abilities’ that are impaired in major psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia. It is in this context that I am keen to study schizophrenia from a ‘social brain disorder’ perspective. It has been suggested that schizophrenia represents a costly by-product of the social brain evolution in Homo sapiens. Disturbances in social cognition, social skills, socialbehaviorand social functioning, have emerged as defining features ofthis disorder.

I have been fortunate to work with Dr. JagadishaThirthalli, Additional Professor of Psychiatry at NIMHANS, Bangalore. He was my thesis guide during MD and has always let me pursue my research interests, with prudent and timely inputs to enhance my research repertoire. My research career began during MD where I started by developing an indigenous test battery to assess social cognition (our ability to infer thoughts and emotions of others) in the Indian setting – the Social Cognition Rating Tools in Indian Setting (SOCRATIS). I demonstrated that social cognition deficits mediated the social dysfunction in schizophrenia patients. From there on, I was keen to examine the neural basis of social cognition deficits in schizophrenia, which could serve as targets for novel treatment applications. Mirror neurons are specialized nerve cells, which by their property of firing both during action execution and action observation may provide the template that helps us understand the intentions and emotions underlying particular actions of others. With the help of a grant from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India I conducted a study to examine

The relationship between mirror neuron activity and social cognition in schizophrenia. By employing a combination of neuropsychological and brain stimulation (transcranial magnetic stimulation) techniques, I demonstrated reduced mirror neuron activity in patients with schizophrenia, which correlated with their social cognition deficits. This is a novel finding that warrants further research in this area.

Conducting quality research as a clinician is a challenging task in a country like India, primarily due to the sheer quantum of patient-care responsibilities and paucity of funding resources. The India Alliance Early Career Fellowship has come at an opportune time in my career. It will enable me to pursue my research interests, primarily the above trajectory of investigation, while not having to give up clinical work. I propose to study the effects of adaptively modulating mirror neuron regions in schizophrenia patients, using brain stimulation techniques. It will be of significant clinical interest to examine the effects of mirror neuron modulation on social cognition. The results will better inform us about the neural processes underlying complex social cognition abilities, as well as, guide the development of novel brain stimulation based therapeutic applications in schizophrenia.