Heal the world: ‘Seeing your research having impact is a dream come true’
Professor Abhay Pandit is researching improvements in wound management
Prof Abhay Pandit says seeing his grandfather in India confined to bed and developing bedsores sparked his interest in the area. Photograph: Andrew Downes/ xposure
Prof Abhay Pandit is scientific director of the Centre for Research in Medical Devices (CÚRAM) and Professor in Biomaterials at NUI Galway
You are interested in finding new ways to heal wounds in the body – what kinds of wounds are you looking at?
We are researching the fundamental processes that underpin wound healing, and by that I mean not only cuts in the skin but also the wounds in spinal cord injuries and even in heart attacks where the heart muscle becomes damaged and scarred, or in a chronic disease like diabetes where the wound-healing cascade may get disrupted and you get persistent sores. We want to understand the intrinsic healing processes that the body engages across the compendium of wounds in order to repair damage.
How will that help wound healing?
We are looking to develop new biocompatible materials that we can use as platforms or scaffolds on or in the body. These functional biomaterials would be implanted at specific wound sites to encourage the body’s intrinsic healing processes, and perhaps deliver medicines to the site. Then the biomaterials would disappear when they are no longer needed.
What sparked your interest in research into wound healing?
When I was growing up in India, my grandfather had a stroke and it was very difficult to see someone you love confined to bed and developing bedsores. That had a profound impact on me.
I studied biomedical engineering and then I saw an ad looking for a PhD student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to work on wound healing. That really called to me. I answered the ad and that was my start in the field. When I worked there we would see patients in the hospital on rounds, and when you see the challenge in front of you it makes you want to work more and more on it and make a difference.
Tell us about a rewarding moment in your research.
A big one for me was my PhD work on using the blood component fibrin for wound healing. It led to a clinical trial and our studies sparked more interest in using fibrin in wound-healing products. Seeing your research having an impact is a dream come true.
What do like to do when you are not working on science?
I love to cook for family and friends. I am a vegetarian but I try and cook everything. I’m not a scientific cook so I don’t follow recipes to the letter, but people like to come back for more, which is a good sign.
I also like independent films and theatre and art and I love travelling. I have really enjoyed trips to places that I previously knew little about, including Georgia, Tibet, Ethiopia and Uzbekistan.
Have you a wish list for researchers in Ireland?
I want to see more diversity in the gender and the ethnic and economic backgrounds of senior researchers here in Ireland. That is really important.
Also I would like to see more engagement of researchers in the public space. Making our research findings accessible to individuals in all walks of life is critical for the future of Irish research.
I also think research integrity is a key area we need to protect. Through CÚRAM we have established a national programme to get researchers thinking and talking about what good research looks like, the importance of being able to reproduce results and avoiding plagiarism.
What makes you proudest from your work?
The people who work or have worked in my lab. Yes, we hope to have clinical products in the future that arise from the research to help wound healing, but it is also really important that we continue to train researchers in this area and my students and staff are wonderful expert “products” of what we do.