Women in Science Spotlight – Featuring Dr. Munira A. Basrai, Ph. D

Dr. Munira A. Basrai is a Senior Investigator in the Genetics Branch of the National Cancer Institute at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Basrai’s research focuses on the molecular mechanisms for faithful chromosome segregation in budding yeast and human cells. Her laboratory uses budding (bakers) yeast, mouse model and human cells to identify and characterize pathways that prevent chromosomal instability (CIN) a characteristic feature of many cancers. Dr. Basrai is a resident of Maryland and a member of the Dawoodi Bohra community of Washington DC. She obtained her Bachelor and Masters degrees from Pune University, India and PhD from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Dr. Basrai pursued her postdoctoral research with Dr. Philip Hieter in the Dept. of Molecular Biology and Genetics at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland and was recruited to NIH in 1998. Dr. Basrai has dedicated herself to research, won numerous awards and is highly recognized for her contributions in the field of Genetics and Cancer Research.

Website: https://ccr.cancer.gov/Genetics-Branch/munira-a-basrai

Have you always been interested in the field of genetics and cancer research?

I have been interested in genetics and cancer research and hence I pursued my postdoctoral study with budding yeast at Johns Hopkins. Greater than 70% of genes in budding yeast are evolutionarily conserved in humans and the awesome power of yeast genetics makes it an ideal model system for cancer research.

What inspired you to pursue this field of research?

Errors in chromosome segregation are observed in many human diseases and especially cancer. Hence, defining the causes and consequences of errors in chromosome segregation are essential for understanding the progression of cancers.

What would you like to accomplish with your research?

My studies with yeast inspired me to extrapolate my findings to human cancers. We have used human cells and transgenic mouse models and established that pathways that prevent CIN are similar in these systems.  Our ultimate goal is to define the causes of CIN and use these results for better diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of cancers.

How has COVID-19 impacted your day-to-day work?

COVID-19 impacted our ability to return to the bench due to limited occupancy with social distancing in the laboratory.  Fortunately, I have a very talented and motivated group and we have kept intellectually engaged with our projects, learnt to use bench time effectively with careful planning and maintained our worldwide collaborations  My group has done extremely well in coping with the pandemic with several significant publications in the past year.

Do you have any advice for people who want to go into research?

You have to be passionate about asking the significant questions, designing the right approach to address the problem, executing the experiments, interpreting the results in an unbiased manner and most importantly packaging and ”selling” your findings for publication in a high impact journal.  Research careers are demanding all levels (student, postdoc, investigator) and it requires dedication especially when experiments don’t go as planned.  I truly enjoy my research, the opportunity to mentor the next generation of scientists and my interactions with the scientific community.  Dedication of scientists worldwide has culminated in the rapid pace of diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.

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