Indu S. Ambudkar - November 2015
Indu S. Ambudkar, Ph.D., is chief, Molecular Physiology and Therapeutics Branch and Secretory Physiology Section at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. She earned her B.Sc. and M.Sc. from Isabella Thoburn College, Lucknow, India; and her Ph.D. from Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, India.
Ambudkar has significantly contributed toward establishing the role of Ca2+ in the salivary secretory process as well as dysfunctions due to radiation and immune disorders. Her studies suggest a link between reduced levels of key Ca2+ signaling proteins and the development of Sjogren’s Syndrome. Her studies demonstrate that in salivary glands the channel protein Transient Receptor Potential Melastatin-like 2, a Ca2+-permeable non selective cation channel, contributes to loss of salivary gland function during radiation and oxidative stress. Consequently, reducing the function of this cation channel, could protect the glands from the deleterious effects of radiation.
Ambudkar is internationally well-recognized for her research, which has been published in leading journals including the IADR/AADR Journal of Dental Research. She has published more than 150 original reports, reviews and book chapters of outstanding quality.
Since joining AADR in 2008, Ambudkar has been a fully engaged member and has served on the JDR Editorial Board. In 2014, she received the IADR Distinguished Scientist Award in Salivary Research, which is an award designed to stimulate and recognize outstanding and innovative achievements that have contributed to the basic understanding of the salivary gland structure, secretion, and function, or salivary composition and function.
How did you first learn about AADR?
When I joined the NIDCR, I was exposed to clinical and dental research. That’s when I realized that there is a whole other area of research where I could apply my work to impact dentistry and oral biology. Since I worked with a lot of dentists and there was an active clinical program in our Branch at NIH, I became aware and appreciative of clinical and translational research in oral biology and dentistry. Those colleagues introduced me to IADR and AADR and they encouraged me to attend the meetings, which then led me to join AADR.
How important has AADR been in your career?
My membership in AADR has motivated me to become more involved in research that can potentially have a clinical impact. Through AADR, I’ve been able to expand my network and meet people that I otherwise would not have met. If I had never attended an AADR meeting or joined the Association, I would have missed out on some of the opportunities that have helped me grow in my career. Also, being in the NIDCR brings awareness of AADR and how our work impacts the wider dental community. For example, clinical and translation research that we do can lead to development of novel methodologies and techniques that can be used to improve diagnosis and treatment of dental and oral diseases.
What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
One of the most valuable benefits of my membership is having the opportunity to network with others in the field. If I didn’t attend the IADR and AADR meetings, I wouldn’t have been able to meet other members of the community, and these are people I have now known for years. Also, having access to the research that AADR shares at the meetings keeps me up-to-speed on what’s happening in the field.
How important do you think cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines is to the future of dental, oral and craniofacial research?
It is absolutely important because most scientists, me included, are not masters of all techniques and methodologies. Increasingly, successful research that is being reported includes significant work that comes from collaborations. I rely on my colleagues who have expertise in other areas to have an input in my work. Without additional input from my collaborators, it would be difficult for me to achieve my research. For example, I work closely with clinicians who add a very different perspective to the work.
What advice would you give to students to encourage them to pursue careers in dental research?
Every year I have students in my lab doing research and internships but not all of them continue with a career in research. I try to show these students that a career in research can be exciting and I also advise them to not be so afraid of the funding situation that it dissuades them from pursuing a research career. When students come out of dental school and they have loans, it can be nerve wracking to try to think of a future career. However, there are programs that are helping students pay off their student loans. Not all students know that these programs are available, so I make sure to get the word out. Additionally, I am an advocate for female students who want to pursue careers in research. It’s not easy and a lot of women in the early stages of their career ask me whether it is possible to balance work and family life. They question whether they should put family life on hold until they finish their Ph.D. work and secure an academic position or put their careers on hold till they have children etc. I tell them they cannot compartmentalize their life, things have to flow together. While it is up to an individual to decide what works best, I encourage these young women to not hold back because they really can achieve the best of both. What is important is that they need not put unnecessary pressure on themselves to be the kind of perfect housewife and mother as constantly described by the media. Ultimately, they need to feel happy and content with what they are doing and not worry that people are judging them. They need to make a decision based on their long-term goals and then do the best they can to make it work. As scientific researchers, they should focus on the impact and quality of the work and not on the number of papers. With a lot of hard work, time management, and focus they can progress towards their career goals and spend time at home with the children. In doing so, they would have succeeded in balancing their life and career.