Independence day: Postdoc Ashish Dhir “ecstatic” to be setting up own lab group at University of Edinburgh

Independence day: Postdoc Ashish Dhir “ecstatic” to be setting up own lab group at University of Edinburgh

Ashish Dhir, a postdoc from the Proudfoot lab, has been awarded the Chancellor’s Fellowship to take up a group leader position at the MRC Institute of Genetics & Molecular Medicine (IGMM) at the University of Edinburgh in March 2019.

Once established Ashish’s group will focus on identifying endogenous nucleic acids that are drivers of inflammation in various pathophysiological conditions. He plans to further explore the role of mitochondrial double-stranded RNAs (mtdsRNAs) in innate immunity and investigate the expanding repertoire of autoimmune diseases in which the role of mitochondrial nucleic acids (including mtdsRNAs) remains unexplored.

“I was ecstatic or ‘over the moon’ as they say when I heard about the offer. IGMM provides an excellent interdisciplinary environment for biomedical research with a strong focus in nucleic acid metabolism and innate immunity, which is a theme close to my current research interest.”

In 2010, Ashish completed his PhD studies on RNA structure and splicing regulation with Prof. Tito Baralle at ICGEB in Trieste, Italy. There he trained in classical RNA biochemistry with an emphasis on RNA structure and RNA-protein interaction. Shortly after graduation, he joined Nick Proudfoot’s lab in the Dunn School with an EMBO Long Term Fellowship. 

During his time at the Dunn School, Ashish’s research has focussed on various aspects of mammalian gene expression, including RNA processing of protein-coding and long non-coding RNA genes, processing of microRNA precursors and 3’ end processing coupled transcription termination. He identified non-canonical functions of Drosha-DGCR8 complex in terminating transcription of long non-coding RNAs that host microRNA precursors (NSMB, 2015). He recently discovered mtdsRNAs as a novel trigger for interferon activation in mammalian cells when the cellular pathway involved in its suppression is dysfunctional in a mitochondrial disease. This uncovered an unexpected link between the mtdsRNA and innate immunity (Nature, 2018).

Reflecting on the research environment at the Dunn School, Ashish said: “The interdisciplinarity and cutting-edge research of the Dunn School offers an excellent environment for novel ideas to brew. I particularly benefited from the exposure to the diverse immunology, cell biology and RNA biology research in the department."

He identified the freedom he enjoyed in Nick Proudfoot’s lab to pursue his own ideas, as a critical driver behind propelling his career. 

Ashish expressed gratitude to Nick Proudfoot and the department for making sure the hurdles coming from being a non-EU/EEA immigrant here in the UK have had a minimal impact on his personal and professional life. 

 Find out more about the Chancellor’s Fellowship here.  

Written by Sheng Kai Pong

Monday, March 25, 2019 - 11