Chirag Vasavda

Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic, debilitating facial pain characterized by sudden, short and intense episodes of shooting, stabbing or shocklike pain in the face. The pain can be triggered by activities of everyday life, such as eating, drinking, talking or brushing teeth. Trigeminal neuralgia is so debilitating it was historically dubbed the “suicide disease” because patients would sometimes take their own life to end their suffering. Unfortunately, medical treatments for trigeminal neuralgia often fall short, and the only FDA-approved drug for trigeminal neuralgia carries a significant side effect profile.

This collaborative study between the laboratories of Solomon Snyder and Michael Lim sought to understand the mechanisms underlying trigeminal neuralgia. Our discoveries provide insight into what causes pain in trigeminal neuralgia, and, importantly, identifies promising therapeutic targets to benefit patients suffering from this debilitating pain.

Questions & Answers

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

When I was interviewing among M.D./Ph.D. programs in 2013, I remember feeling noticeably energized from my conversations with faculty, staff and students at Hopkins, and their collective energy drew me to Hopkins from the outset. It was also the first time I met Sol and the first time I experienced in person his neuro-centric, stubbornly molecular approach to science. He also asked me very unusual questions, ones that probed at first principles from an orthogonal angle more than others would. Upon learning I was admitted to Hopkins, I was thrilled at the opportunity to study under him and joined his lab shortly afterward. From that interview to this day, Sol inspires me to be a better scientist and thinker, and I will forever be thankful to be a Snyder baby.

What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally? Do you have any connection with the particular award you received?

Every year at the Hopkins M.D./Ph.D. retreat, we are reminded of Dr. Prochaska’s contributions to science and medicine, and honor him with the Prochaska Lectureship. These lectures are often filled with inspirational science, guiding us each year as we seek to become physician-scientists ourselves. I am deeply grateful to receive the Hans J. Prochaska Award, and hope that his legacy continues to inform and improve my approach to science beyond my time at M.D./Ph.D. retreats.

What contributed to your project’s success?

A mentor once told me that science may be one of humanity’s greatest collaborations, and the privilege I have had to study science is only because of the many individuals working right beside me and those who supported, taught and guided me along the way.

I am deeply grateful for the privilege to have studied under my mentor, Solomon Snyder. Michael Lim, Xinzhong Dong, Michael Caterina and Allan Belzberg were also instrumental in guiding this work. I am also thankful to my friends and colleagues, including Jimmy Meixiong, Risheng Xu, Jason Liew, Ruchita Kothari, Dustin Green, Ryan Dhindsa and Evan Semenza, all of whom helped drive this study directly or the work underlying it.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigators’ Day itself, as a celebration of the roles students and fellows play in research at Johns Hopkins?

I value the Young Investigators’ Days immensely as a trainee, not only as a celebration of my friends and colleagues, but also as an opportunity to learn of the incredible discoveries being made each day in our community. I believe the Young Investigators’ Days can serve as a vehicle to inspire younger trainees by learning of the breadth and significance of the work conducted by our fellow scientists.

What has been your best/most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

Hopkins has not only shaped and supported my professional trajectory, but also my personal narrative. I will never forget the moment when my partner Byron matched into the dermatology department here for residency. Byron has accomplished so much over the years as a resident at Hopkins — and now faculty member — and through his successes has taught me both professional and personal lessons.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I am currently enrolled in the Johns Hopkins M.D./Ph.D. program and expect to graduate in May 2023. I hope to advance both my clinical and scientific training through a research-track residency, with the ultimate aspiration of leading a research program focused at the intersection of chemical biology, pharmacology and clinical medicine.

Tell us something interesting about yourself.

Outside of the lab, I was a member of the hip-hop dance team SLAM at Johns Hopkins. I also love to bike. I am quite possibly the worst cook you’ve ever met.