­Indu Venugopal: the importance of passion and perseverance in your career

Indu’s team works to develop targeted immunotherapy to fight cancer.

As a principal investigator at SRI’s Biosciences Division, Indu Venugopal, PhD, is leading the effort to develop a novel way to win the battle against cancer. Her work has been integral to developing Targeted Antigen Loaded Liposomes (TALL), which can deliver a synthetic peptide specifically to tumor tissue to facilitate highly targeted immunotherapy.

After completing her PhD from the University of Illinois Chicago, Indu started her career at SRI seven years ago as a postdoctoral fellow, and has worked her way up to the role of principal investigator.

Here, she describes her passion for science and the vital part she plays in developing a groundbreaking method to tackle the scourge of cancer:

After completing my PhD, I explored research opportunities in the targeted drug-delivery space. I wanted to find programs focused on innovative cancer research and delve into nonconventional treatments. The timing was perfect: SRI had a postdoctoral fellow position available, precisely aligning with my research interests. This synchronicity was ideal, and the innovation encouraged by SRI has kept me here.

Working at SRI makes me feel like I’m contributing positively to society; the research environment at SRI allows me to explore alternatives to conventional cancer treatments that offer a more targeted way to deliver immunotherapy. Now I’m a principal investigator for one of SRI Biosciences’ immunotherapy programs exploring a novel method for treating solid tumors.

Research is not always a straightforward path. The nature of exploration means that you come across ups and downs—there may be points where things don’t work out. However, SRI fosters a culture of collaboration and encourages innovative ideas and the importance of being part of a team, all of which are important for professional growth. The path to success may not be straightforward, but you can achieve your goal with a great team and the right environment.

Research can also be hard work, and sometimes it may not work out. Progress can be slow and unpredictable—it’s essential that you believe in yourself, and you must believe in your team. But perseverance and knowing that the outcome will make a meaningful contribution to society pushes me onwards. My mentors at SRI and my talented TALL team are part of the support network that helps me move forward on the research path.

Throughout my childhood and professional career, my parents have always encouraged me to work in a field I’m truly passionate about. I echo their advice to choose a career that you will love and that will have a positive impact on the world. Working in a discipline you love means you can keep going even if things don’t go smoothly. So, if I had a chance to go back in time to the younger Indu or to someone entering the profession, one piece of advice I’d give is to keep going. Even if everything seems to be going wrong, it will eventually work out.

It’s a fantastic time to work in the field of immuno-oncology. For the longest time, there were no significant developments in treatments for cancer patients, with chemotherapy, surgical resection, and radiation treatments being the only truly available options. However, in the past decade, many immuno-oncology–based therapies have improved the life span of individuals with certain cancers. There’s great potential in immuno-oncology and targeted drug delivery. Both fields excite me, and I’m proud to be part of the community making headway in this field.

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