EMPOWER fellows’ stories – Najneen Rejwana

Najneen Rejwana is from Bangladesh. She is one of the fellows awarded with the EMPOWER project of UNOSSC. She visited Trieste from the New Delhi ICGEB component, on the occasion of the Arturo Falaschi conference in July. Here is her story.

“It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that I realized the power of computational biology. At that time, I was locked at home like every one of us because of the lockdowns. People were dying and I felt the need to do something.” Najneen Rejwana is one of the fellows funded by the EMPOWER project of the UN Office for South-South Cooperation. She is from Bangladesh but is now working at ICGEB New Delhi in the Translational Bioinformatics group headed by Dr Dinesh Gupta. We recently met her in Trieste at the Arturo Falaschi Conference on DNA replication and genome maintenance, and she spent some time with us to tell her story.

During the lockdown, she was still an MSc student in Genetics at the University of Mysore in India. Her passion for biology led her to try to find a cure that could help save people from SARS-CoV-2. She was at home with no possibility to go into the lab, so she unleashed her interest in computers and started to do dry experiments with her laptop. “Although I tried a lot, I failed. Looking back, I can now say that my purpose was probably too big for me alone. At that time, though I had some experience in bioinformatics, I was badly looking for a skilled supervisor and a good bioinformatics lab where I can implement research experiments under good supervision.”

Najneen did not let herself be discouraged. Once she got her Master’s degree in 2021, she started looking for a lab to do some practice. She found the call for the EMPOWER programme and thought it could be a great opportunity for her to grow as a scientist. She now had the possibility to move to an international research institute, but she was still missing a good teacher. She had found out about the ICGEB through her University and started looking at the research groups in New Delhi, one of the ICGEB components which could host EMPOWER fellows. Dr Dinesh Gupta was her choice as a PI because his lab interests were properly aligned with her research interests. Dr Dinesh and his lab use bioinformatics to study many aspects of biology, including human diseases.

“I was lucky to obtain the fellowship, and I am so grateful to the EMPOWER programme for this opportunity. Now, I am working and learning a lot in a great lab with a great supervisor. It is a dream come true”. Najneen now works in New Delhi at ICGEB on two projects on the design and development of potential antimalarial and anticancer drug compounds.