Q&A with Dr Deep Bhuyan

28 February 2022 

A Q&A with Dr Bhuyan on his career, new challenges ahead and some of the topics his team will work on in 2022 and beyond. Dr Bhuyan is a Research Support Program Fellow, Health Ageing at NICM Health Research Institute. He joined the institute in 2018 as an ARC Postdoctoral Research Fellow. His current research centres on the development of novel gut microbiota-based anticancer therapies and deciphering their molecular mechanisms of action. Furthermore, he is currently working on developing natural product-based therapies for bacterial and viral diseases.

What drew you to complementary and integrative medicine research?

Growing up in India, herbal medicine (Ayurveda and Assamese Traditional Medicine) was a part of life. I remember my mum used to make me drink turmeric milk (famously known as turmeric latte these days) in the morning to improve my memory and cognition as a kid. Although I hated it at that time, now being a researcher who is trying to build a bridge between traditional and conventional medicines, I can see the scientific rationale behind that habit. The passion to learn how things work at the molecular level is the reason why I was drawn to complementary and integrative medicine research.

What do you love about research? 

The fact that I can question and challenge my current understanding as a researcher. I remember this quote, although a bit clichéd “comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there”, which has stuck with me and I try to follow it religiously in my professional journey. I love the fact that research allows me to challenge the current understanding and the status quo to learn and grow more both personally and professionally. The icing on the cake - I can also scientifically test some unconventional theories through research with an ultimate goal to help people in some way.

What brought you to NICM HRI? 

NICM HRI’s reputation in complementary and integrative medicine in Australia and internationally as well as its focus on both preclinical and clinical research to streamline the “bench to bedside” approach for cancer and infectious diseases. NICM HRI has enabled me to exchange ideas and collaborate with national and international researchers from different scientific fields including conventional as well as complementary and integrative medicine.

What are you currently working on? 

Quite a few projects, actually. Understanding the mechanistic role of the gut microbiome in cancer to define novel therapeutic strategies would be the major one as it is supported by my recent Research Support Program Fellowship from Western. I am also working on a Research Partnership Program project to investigate the prebiotic and antiviral (against human coronavirus) potential of bioactive molecules from foods. Another project close to my heart is looking at the therapeutic activity (anticancer, prebiotic, antimicrobial and anti-ageing) of Australian native fruits and vegetables.

What is your next project? 

I have recently taken the leadership role in coordinating and strengthening the collaboration between the All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA; a part of the Ministry of AYUSH, India) and NICM HRI. I am currently liaising with the AIIA and the Ministry of AYUSH to design several future collaborative projects to improve the current scientific evidence on Ayurvedic herbs and medicines through systematic lab-based investigations. This mega project will also facilitate the exchange of students and scholars between the AIIA and NICM HRI and finally help in setting up a joint research centre on Ayurveda at NICM HRI.

What has been the most rewarding research project in your career so far? 

My PhD project at the University of Newcastle from 2014-2018 that looked into the preclinical efficacy and molecular mechanisms of biomolecules from Australian Eucalyptus against pancreatic cancer. This project helped me build my skillsets in cancer research from scratch, taught me efficiency (working smart rather than hard) and teamwork and led to several publications, national and international conference presentations and media interviews. Since then, I have been able to leverage these skillsets at NICM HRI to pursue many government and industry-funded projects, supervise HDR students and disseminate my research through scientific publications and mainstream and social media.

What has been the best career advice you’ve ever received? 

Multitasking is a myth, do one thing at a time and compartmentalise the rest. Also, having a good work-life balance is crucial. Being early career researchers trying to push boundaries, we often forget or find it difficult to take care of our mental health. I am currently working on both!

What is your favourite aspect of your role? 

The most rewarding part of my role is that I get to interact with and supervise young minds daily. Mentoring is a two-way street where both the mentor and the mentee continuously learn from each other. I am currently supervising seven HDR students and I feel incredibly honoured to be able to teach, guide and encourage these students to do well in research. Also, being a drug discovery researcher for cancer, my role comes with its own set of responsibilities. Cancer is a complex disease and developing an anticancer drug takes years of research and billions of dollars. I feel privileged to be able to contribute to the growing body of scientific research on anticancer therapies with an ultimate hope to help people in some capacity.