Kaushal Asrani

The mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) is critical for both normal development and tumorigenesis, and is an attractive therapeutic target. In the Lotan lab we use biochemistry, imaging, microarrays and proteomics of the neonatal mouse skin to characterize the functions of mTORC1 in epithelial biology. In a recent study, we observed that mTORC1 loss was associated with a lethal skin barrier defect with blistering and impaired intercellular adhesion. These effects were due to upregulated Rho kinase (ROCK) signaling and a resulting failure to form desmosomes; structures that are critical to skin integrity. Our work provides a physiological basis for side effects such as delayed wound healing and skin eruptions that are frequently associated with mTORC1 inhibitors, and also highlights the TGFβ-ROCK pathway as a potentially druggable target, downstream of mTORC1 loss.

Questions & Answers

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Johns Hopkins Medicine has long held a tradition of pioneering advances and discoveries in the biomedical field. My doctoral studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore primed me to further my research interests and pursue my postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins. With its state-of-the-art infrastructure, extraordinary talent pool and collaborative ethos, I am grateful to be a part of the biomedical revolution that takes place here each day.

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

I feel elated and humbled to be a recipient of this award; I cherish the fact that it legitimizes my work and provides impetus to my professional development. It is a tremendous motivator for future scientific achievements.

What contributed to your project’s success (special skills, interests, opportunities, guidance, etc.)?

I am incredibly thankful for the guidance and support of my mentor, Dr. Tamara Lotan. Since the primary focus of our lab is prostate cancer, studying a different model system was challenging and risky. She enabled me to pursue my intellectual curiosity with utmost freedom (within the confines of our funding!), while simultaneously encouraging me to cultivate a goal-oriented focus. Her dedication to her numerous professional responsibilities has strongly influenced my work ethic and has been instrumental in motivating me to successfully complete my projects. Additionally, I would also like to thank Dr. Pierre Coulombe and Dr. Luis Garza and their lab members for critical insights on my projects during our dermatology-focused group sessions.

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?

These awards are a tremendous initiative to highlight and honor the work of young scientists while simultaneously motivating them to aspire even higher.

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

I have really enjoyed my stay at Johns Hopkins so far. I have met some truly wonderful people, and have had the opportunity to collaborate in an amazing environment. The abundance of learning opportunities and the humility of the professors imparting knowledge never ceases to amaze me! Moreover, Johns Hopkins has a very inclusive culture that makes for a very enjoyable experience.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

Later this year, I will be transitioning to a research associate position in our department, where I plan to continue working on existing and new projects. I am also preparing to pursue medical residency training sometime in the future.

Tell us something interesting about yourself that makes you unique. Do you have any special hobbies, interests or life experiences?

I love traveling, hiking and playing competitive tennis when possible.