Visitor of the Week: Dwani Patel


Meet Dwani Patel of the Medical College of Wisconsin. He is currently in the 2nd year of his PhD training and a 4th year student in the MD/PhD program. He is a member of the Ocular Gene Therapy Lab run by Dr. Daniel Lipinski. Dwani was recently at our Banbury Campus taking part in the Vision: A Platform for Linking Circuits, Perception and Behavior course. The biennially-offered course wrapped up earlier this week and Dwani shared with us his thoughts on his first course at CSHL.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research interests are in developing gene-based therapies to prevent blindness arising from neurodegenerative and retinal vascular diseases. Specifically, my thesis work is focused on developing technologies to enhance the treatment and diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy in the pre-symptomatic stage of disease.

How did you decide to make it the focus of your research?
My overarching goal is to lead a research program that will directly help to improve human health and condition. At the Medical College of Wisconsin, the multi-disciplinary and collaborative cell biology, neurobiology, and vision science training program encouraged me to explore the field of ophthalmology. Here, I found Dr. Lipinski who combines exciting and promising technologies like AAV-based gene therapies and advanced imaging techniques to restore sight and prevent blindness – one of the most feared conditions that affects many in my own family.

How did your scientific journey begin?
My science career began as a Bioengineering student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. My work was focused on integrating spectroscopy techniques and numerical methods to expand the innovative field of digital molecular pathology for cancer diagnostics. In 2013, I had the opportunity to take part in the Amgen Scholars Program at Washington Univeristy in St. Louis where I studied the molecular basis of Alzheimer’s Disease to identify novel targets for therapy. This program introduced me to the career path of a physician-scientist, and I was intrigued by the opportunity to balance a career in clinical management and translational research.

Was there something specific about the Vision: A Platform for Linking Circuits, Perception and Behavior course that drew you to apply?
A significant portion of my studies prior to taking this course focused more on clinical neuroscience and ophthalmology and less on the biology of vision and neural circuitry. I took this course to fill the gaps in my knowledge and to understand the complexities of vision and higher order sensory processing that extend beyond the eye.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
This course has given me a deeper insight into the complexities of the visual circuitry and has taught me that vision impairment is far more complicated than simply being able to see or not. As a physician, the lessons learned will help me set individualized and more meaningful milestones to assess a patient’s improvement in vision. As a scientist, our discussions have given me insight into critical questions that remain to be investigated.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
Understanding visual neuroscience and neural circuitry is an incredibly challenging endeavor. Nevertheless, there has been tremendous progress. Individual groups are taking top-down, bottom-up, computational, physiologic, engineering, and biologic approaches to tackle this important question. The continued success and progress of this project will greatly depend on our ability to come together, compile, share, question, and challenge each other as we did in this course.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
This course is an incredibly unique opportunity to sit and live with some of the most profound and accomplished scientists and thinkers in our field. Take every opportunity to ask questions and learn from them.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
My favorite part of the course was without a doubt the people. Our course directors Farran Briggs and Joseph Carroll, along with our TA Lindsey Salay, did a phenomenal job organizing the course. The students were also diverse in all respects and this made for very engaging discussions.

Dwani received a scholarship from the National Eye Institute (NEI) to cover a portion of his course tuition. On behalf of Dwani, thank you to the NEI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Dwani 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.