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Jan. 23, 2003, Gazette

Breath of fresh air

Dr. Kaushik Nag
Dr. Kaushik Nag

"Collaboration is central to my research,” said Dr. Kaushik Nag, assistant professor of biochemistry at Memorial. “From the time I began graduate work, I became interested in working with researchers in different disciplines – gaining insight into my work from varying perspectives.”

Dr. Nag’s work is the study of surfactant in both healthy and diseased lungs.

“Right now I am working on the structural biochemistry and biophysics of membranes and surfactant on a molecular level — trying to comprehend the basis for dysfunction,” he said. “I am hoping to find other researchers at Memorial who are also interested in this type of research.”

The study of the lungs has been the focal point of much of Dr. Nag’s research, even from his earliest days as a student at the University of Calcutta. He explained that this interest was sparked by a philosophical, rather than a scientific, occurrence in his life.

“When I was studying physiology in Calcutta, I met a man who was heavily involved with the practice and teaching of yoga, and he showed me the bipolar nature of breathing through our nostrils. We predominately breathe through one nostril at a time, and the sides switch approximately every three hours, according to alternating brain activity,” explained Dr. Nag. “I was fascinated by this, especially by his revelation that we, as humans, can control which nostril we use. I set about testing and studying this phenomenon, and my research was published in the Indian Journal of Physiology. I suppose that’s how I really became interested in the lungs.”

After completing a bachelor’s and master’s in his home country, Dr. Nag continued his collaborative research efforts at Memorial University, the University of Western Ontario, and Ryerson.

“Memorial has a goldmine of expertise in biophysics and physics, including the work Drs. Morrow, Whitehead, and Whitmore have conducted on soft matter,” he said. “Dr. Kevin Keough, who was, at the time, a biochemistry professor and the vice-president of research at Memorial, really allowed me a lot of flexibility, and so I ended up building a very specialized instrument for use in studying the components of the lung.”

This significant undertaking attracted great interest from Canadian and American universities, alike, and paved the way for much of Dr. Nag’s postdoctoral work in Ontario.

“While at Western, I was first working with Fred Possmayer in obstetrics and gynecology, and eventually switched to chemistry with Nils Petersen, who is currently the vice-president of research there,” said Dr. Nag. “I appreciated the opportunity to carry out my research on lung surfactant with scientists of varying specialities. It was also about that time that I realised prior research, including my own, was being proven wrong, and so I was given the opportunity to pursue my work in new ways.”

Following the time spent working at Western as a Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR)/Canadian Lung Association postdoctoral fellow, and the receipt of offers from Northwestern and Harvard for postdoctoral work, Dr. Nag looked toward joining his alma mater in Newfoundland as a faculty member. “Memorial offers an opportunity to really connect with fellow researchers and with students. That’s not something you can find everywhere,” he admitted.

Armed with a prestigious New Investigator grant for the next five years from the CIHR’s Regional Partnership Program, Dr. Nag is currently studying the changes in protein structure within diseased surfactant – that which has been extracted from humans, bovine and marsupial species.

“With the use of an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM),” he said, “you can actually see the patterns formed by DPPC Langmuir films – the main lung surfactant component. These pictures are really quite astounding, and allow you to see what you are studying from a totally new perspective.”

With his long list of accomplishments in tow, Dr. Nag has many more opportunities he would like to pursue at Memorial, including, but not limited to, the funding and purchase of Memorial’s own AFM, and many successful research collaborations on campus.

“Research, I think, is about trying to see your work from as many different angles as possible,” added Dr. Nag. “This is the kind of thing I want to pursue here at Memorial, and I am looking forward to working with other scientists who feel the same way.”

To find out more, please contact Dr. Nag at