Anticancer chemotherapeutics such as cisplatin are a truly effective means of cancer treatment. However, most have numerous toxic complications, with 40 to 80 percent of cancer patients developing permanent hearing loss due to cisplatin exposure. One of the biggest clinically relevant challenges is to remove certain platinum-based drugs from circulation to prevent systemic toxicity.
Cisplatin enters the cochlea through blood circulation and gains access to the inner ear sensory hair cells after disrupting the protective blood-labyrinth barrier (BLB), ultimately causing sensory hair cell death. However, the mechanism of the cisplatin-induced systemic toxicity on hair cell death is not completely understood.
I proposed that cochlear immunity plays a major role in regulating cisplatin-induced ototoxicity. Studying cochlear immunity in its entirety has been a critical challenge for several decades, due to technical limitations and the cochlea being a difficult organ to access. Expertise I gained in the field of cancer biology and immunology at the National Cancer Institute helped me develop a high-dimensional technique to investigate cochlear immunity and to understand how a complex interaction among millions of immune cells within the cochlea determines the degree of cisplatin-induced ototoxicity.
My love for science and seeking goes back to my early childhood. My best afternoons were to use my uncle’s biology dissection box to cut open flowers and leaves (with little awareness of the danger of sharp instruments) and to look at them under the magnifying glass. I also loved to watch my grandfather purify and shape different metals using various chemicals and instruments in order to make jewelry.
Running for the truth requires a bit of madness. I was born in India, and when I was about 3 years old, I knew a little about the solar system but could not grasp the scope of its dimensions. I used to ask my mom thousands of questions—which she encouraged—and often she was forced to make up stories to satisfy me. Once, she told me that when the sun disappears, it hides in the ocean behind the tree line, just over the horizon. So naturally one evening I tried to find the sun. I walked and ran for nearly 30 minutes before the sun disappeared. Eventually, I returned home, disappointed, and my mom along with other neighbors, though anxious, understood. True, some thought it an act of stupidity, but for me the process of seeking was pure joy.
Another reason for loving science is to interact with new people, visit new places, and collaborate in the lab to solve a clinical problem together. So far I have traveled to 18 countries and look forward to more visits and fruitful collaborations.
I love to cook, and it gives me endless energy. During school vacations, I volunteered at a nonprofit kitchen where we cooked for more than 50,000 people on some occasions and worked more than 18 hours a day. More recently I cooked 10 intricate courses for 100 friends and family.
Moving forward, I will focus on the role of gut microbiota and drug toxicity. Recently it was discovered that gut microbiota regulates cisplatin’s antitumor efficacy. However, its role in cisplatin-induced toxicity is not known. My current research indicates that our own naturally occurring gut microbiota modulates cisplatin-induced toxicity. This holds tremendous translational possibility for reducing ototoxicity and enhancing the quality of life for cancer patients.
Soumen Roy, Ph.D.’s grant is generously supported by the HHF Board of Directors as well as donors who designated their gifts to fund the most promising hearing research.
Click to download a PDF of Dr. Roy's Meet the Researcher profile.