Visitor of the Week: Chirayu Chokshi


Meet Chirayu Chokshi of the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute at McMaster University (Canada). The graduate student, who’s working towards a PhD in Biochemistry with a focus on brain tumor stem cells, is a part of the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Program led by Sheila K. Singh. Chirayu is on campus participating in his first CSHL meeting – Genome Engineering: The CRISPR/Cas Revolution – and also presented a poster titled “Discovery and validation of genes essential for survival of recurrent Glioblastoma brain tumor initiating cells”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research focuses on discovering novel therapeutic targets responsible for therapy resistance in glioblastoma, the most common and a highly aggressive form of malignant brain tumor in adults. I use CRISPR-Cas technology to probe brain tumor initiating cells for context-specific genetic vulnerabilities. 

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Glioblastoma remains a therapeutic challenge. Despite the use of gold standard therapy, patients face a median survival rate of less than 15 months. Previous research heavily focused on using multiomic analyses to capture snapshots of glioblastoma progression and inform therapeutic efforts. Through a collaboration between my current supervisor, Dr. Sheila K. Singh and Dr. Jason Moffat at University of Toronto, I learned about the potential of CRISPR-Cas technology to functionally direct target discovery in glioblastoma in an unbiased manner. Today, I utilize this genetic engineering tool in combination with multiomic data to identify novel therapeutic targets in treatment-resistant glioblastoma. 

How did your scientific journey begin? 
My scientific journey began during a lecture I attended in 2014 by Saul Perlmutter at UC Berkeley. Going in with little knowledge about astrophysics, I was blown away by his research which led to the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe. At that lecture, I realized the potential of science to answer seemingly impossible questions about the world around us. I was especially inspired by Dr. Perlmutter’s use of supercomputers to analyze light emitted by supernovae and arrive at the conclusion that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. 

Was there something specific about Genome Engineering: The CRISPR/Cas Revolution meeting that drew you to attend?
The main reason I attended this meeting is to learn about new applications of CRISPR Cas technology from the world leading experts.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
My key takeaway from this meeting is that CRISPR Cas technology is constantly evolving and leading to an infinite amount of applications to gain insight into various diseases.  

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?  
At this meeting, I was pleasantly surprised to see the many original, innovative applications of CRISPR Cas technology to answer important scientific questions. From the development of modulators of Cas activity to fate mapping with CRISPR technology, I am excited to apply these new technologies to gain insight into glioblastoma progression. Specifically, I would like to set-up CRISPR Cas screening experiments to ask specific questions about the regulation of stemness in glioblastoma cancer stem cells.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would tell them that this meeting is a great way to learn about recent advances in CRISPR Cas technology, network with leading experts, and set-up future collaborations. 

How many CSHL meetings have you attended?
This is my first CSHL meeting and I would love to attend future CRISPR-Cas and cancer modelling meetings. 

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
CSHL is a very special place. Irrespective of where you look around this campus, you’ll always see a beautiful view of historic architecture integrated with nature.

Thank you to Chirayu for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.