Meet Commonwealth Students: Aritra ’25, Genetic Researcher in the Making

Inspired, in part, by his father’s research in the field, Aritra ’25 recently spent a week working with the Kunkel Lab at Boston Children's Hospital, analyzing how the traits of zebrafish, which have a similar genetic and vertebrae structure to humans, could help treat Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Keep reading to learn more about this junior from Newton, Massachusetts (though he still considers Kolkata his hometown!), and his unique research experience.

Getting to Know You

What is bringing you joy right now? 

Reading a book I’ve found on northwest Africa: The Golden Trade of the Moors [by E.W. Bovill]. I’ve also recently gone on a family trip to Las Vegas and the surrounding National Parks, and remembering the view of the Grand Canyon from above is certainly a cause for joy.

What is your favorite book (or a book you’ve re-read)? 

The Silmarillion [by J.R.R. Tolkien] would be my favorite book. The Lord of the Rings is obviously the more famous of his legendarium, but The Silmarillion is like epic mythology, noticeable even in the style of writing, and the stories within are excellent.

What do you think is the most intriguing paradox? 

One of those M.C. Escher illustrations, the very bizarre tile patterns that suggest they are jutting out of the page.

What is your favorite comfort food? 

An omelette with rice and a bit of onions in it.

What was/is your favorite class (at Commonwealth or elsewhere)? 

Currently it’s Ancient History, because I'm intrigued by the time period being covered right now: from the Bronze Age to the rise of Rome. I’m very interested in the various cultures at that time particularly and appreciate the focus on that aspect of history. 

Pen or pencil? 

Whatever I have on me at the moment. 

Life as a Commonwealth Student (and Beyond)

You recently spent Project Week exploring how zebrafish could be used to help treat muscular dystrophy in humans; can you tell us more about that experience?

Certainly I could. First, due to the surge in COVID-19 cases prior to the date of visitation, I was unfortunately unable to visit in person. However, my mentor, Elicia Estrella, arranged several meetings where I could either speak with one of the personnel at the lab and, in one case, even attend a meeting held to discuss research into mouse models. Out of these opportunities, my meeting with Dr. [Jeffery] Widrick was certainly the most memorable, as he went into great depth about the many uses and benefits of zebrafish as animal models for DMD [Duchenne muscular dystrophy]. Regardless of the practical difficulties with visiting, I’m still very glad at how things turned out.

Related: Learn More About Project Week

What did your work entail? What was the structure of each day and/or your week overall?

Over the week I shadowed some of the personnel in the lab. This entailed attending meetings, alongside conducting further reading about DMD and the work done to treat it in my own time. The meetings were held Mondays to Thursdays, with Friday and the weekend reserved for writing my Project Week report (and resting afterwards, to be honest).

What were you most surprised to learn?

How these tiny zebrafish are of such value in the monitoring of DMD in lifeforms as complex as humans. Even though we’re much larger and our organ systems are not the same, the fish could still provide a reference.

What were your Project Week goals, and what progress did you make toward achieving them? 

My goal visiting the lab was to learn more about muscular dystrophy and the techniques used to cure it, and that was certainly met. I also learned a great deal about the environment in a lab and how it is structured when so many projects occur simultaneously. I’d say there is much more yet to learn, and it’s doubtful there’s ever a proper “end” to study in this kind of research, so I’m eager to continue where I left off.

What is your advice for students who might be interested in lab work or research? 

Of course, there are difficulties in getting into a lab at a younger age, but the best choice, I found, is just to ask directly. Also, see if your family has any contacts to whom you could speak, someone who would be willing to help you to visit the lab.

What attracted you to this project? 

I'm very inspired by my father's work and his studies. [Dr. Partha Ghosh is a pediatric neurologist who specializes in neuromuscular disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital.] It was a very good opportunity to start learning more about the field. And, of course, the geographical closeness of the lab being in Boston was very convenient.

Related: Finance, Fish, and Film: Inside the 2022 Projects Assembly

What do you see in your future regarding this work?

I do plan on visiting the lab during the summer and ideally during future Project Weeks as well. The lab is currently simultaneously testing the use of mouse models and zebrafish models, which are newer. So monitoring those developments over time and from the beginning will be very interesting. But those are just a bit of my own thoughts; I'm definitely not qualified enough to give details! 

What was your first impression of Commonwealth, and how has it mapped to your experience? 

I was first interested in the school by the small class sizes and the very rigorous environment. Visiting and having a class [history with Mr. Connolly] was what drew me in. I'm very happy about making the choice to come [to Commonwealth]. The classes are intriguing, to say the least. There is difficulty but nothing I can’t handle. And the opportunities, such as Project Week, are unique, and they allow us to develop our own interests.

How has your Commonwealth experience colored the way you look at the world?

I find it interesting how some of the topics discussed in history could be translated into one’s view of the modern world. By reading about certain thoughts and actions by people in the past, you can analyze odd, even bizarrely close, parallels in the present, such as the current Russo-Ukrainian conflict. You can always find parallels by looking into the past.

How do you spend your time outside of Commonwealth?

I play the flute, and enjoy practicing when I have time. And, of course, reading. I also have a dog, a Maltese, and every time I get home, she just goes crazy and starts jumping about. I certainly spend some time playing with her, to calm her down, if nothing else. Her name is Mishti, which means “sweet” in our language [Bengali]. Well, she certainly does look sweet, but she does not always act sweet, especially to larger dogs or squirrels!

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