Points of Blue: Isha Verma, Ph.D., brings global perspective to Michigan Medicine

January 24, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees, ,

For many scientists, the desire to pursue research stems from an early love of learning and an abundance of curiosity — and Isha Verma, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at the Michigan Neuroscience Institute, is no different. 

Born and raised in India, Verma’s interest in biomedical science began during her elementary school days.

“I was always fascinated by the processes of development and disease,” Verma said.

As she grew older, that interest grew more specific: “I was particularly interested in understanding how aberrations in the normal developmental process can lead to disease manifestation.”  

This fascination carried through Verma’s undergraduate years at Kurukshetra University, in the Indian state of Haryana. That’s where she had her first experience conducting diverse biological research projects, from detecting Rotavirus infection in children to estimating the antioxidant abilities of plant extracts. These early research endeavors, coupled with training experiences at a diagnostic laboratory and a premier vaccine manufacturing institute in India, sparked an appreciation for how basic science discoveries can lead to translational outcomes.  

“They solidified my interest in pursuing research, particularly in a field with high translational potential,” Verma said.

Her passion leads to Ann Arbor

Driven by her research, Verma began her Ph.D. studies at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India, where she trained in a lab focused on early mammalian development. There, she had her first foray into stem cell research — and she has been hooked ever since. 

“I started my Ph.D. project on stem cells and completely fell in love with the system,” Verma said. “Stem cells can form all the cell types found in the human body; they provide a unique model to study development, cell lineage specification and disease progression.”

Her graduate research centered on neural differentiation. She also worked to generate a stem cell model of Huntington’s disease. 

When it was time to look for a postdoctoral position, Verma sought out opportunities that would satisfy her “immense passion” for stem cell research, craving for new experiences and a desire to expand her comfort zone. 

“I wanted to look for postdoctoral opportunities to get further training in stem cell research, specifically stem cell-based neural disease modeling. I also wanted to experience working in a diverse scientific environment,” Verma said.

For her, there was no better place in the world than Ann Arbor — and Michigan Medicine.

She was drawn to the collaborative environment at U-M and its multiple labs working on different areas of stem cell research. The school’s career and professional development opportunities for postdocs were a bonus, offering Verma a chance to “network with professionals in various fields and learn from their experiences.” 

In terms of her research, Verma has stayed true to her stem cell roots. As a research fellow in the Jack Parent Lab, she is studying the genetic underpinnings of epilepsy, a neurological disorder that results in abnormal brain activity and seizures. 

Verma noted that, down the line, such research could facilitate the development of personalized treatment therapies for epilepsy patients. One day, she hopes to be on the front lines of this development — working as a translational researcher to generate stem cell therapies for managing and treating various neurological disorders.

Varied interests beyond the lab 

While Verma’s scientific interests are stem cell-centric, her passions beyond the lab are diverse. She enjoys learning about the history and culture of various places, whether by traveling (she particularly likes taking solo adventures) or visiting museums.

Additionally, she has a knack for science communication and teaching. Verma has written articles for multiple media outlets and serves as a course instructor for Developing Future Biologists, an organization that aims to provide fundamental developmental biology training to underserved undergraduate students.

Besides these teaching and writing endeavors, Verma’s outreach efforts include improving the training experience of international postdocs at Michigan Medicine. As the chair of the international affairs committee of the U-M Postdoctoral Association (UMPDA), she has spearheaded numerous initiatives geared toward international postdocs, such as organizing visa, financial and grant information seminars.

These experiences have allowed Verma to advocate for and make a difference in the lives of her fellow postdocs.

Ultimately, as she said, her time at Michigan Medicine and working with UMPDA has been an incredible experience: “Everyone here has really helped me to develop a community of support.”

This is the first in a series of profiles of postdoctoral and graduate students at Michigan Medicine. Stay tuned to Headlines for more in the weeks and months ahead!