Research Update — Debrasee Banerjee

Debrasee Banerjee, MD, MS

In 2015, Debrasee Banerjee, MD, MS, received the CHEST Foundation Research Grant in Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension. In the Septemeber 2017 issue of the Donor Spotlight, we spoke with Dr. Banerjee about how this project and the grant have impacted her career.

What is the project you have been working on?

I have been researching the role of the specific sodium channel in the heart, how it affects the conductance in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension, and how it might affect RV function. We know in some sources that about 25% of patients with PAH can die of sudden cardiac death, and sudden cardiac death is more common in patients with left-sided heart disease.

Instead of dying of sudden death or end-stage heart failure, we wanted a way to see, just based on a physical exam, if there’s evidence of heart pump function not working well. With the funding, I’ve been able to more than double the sample size of the original pilot data and add in two more large objectives to complement my original aim.

What has receiving the grant meant to you?

One of the reasons I was able to stay at Brown was because of winning this grant from the CHEST Foundation. It was able to cement my interest in fully pursuing a physician scientist career, which is huge, because it is not what I had planned on doing. Because of this grant, I had an 80% protected research position in my first year. Winning the grant gave me a feeling of affirmation and validation, and that certainly motivates me to continue on this path.

Going into fellowship, if you had asked me what I had envisioned myself doing, I would have said I’d be a medical educator. I think I was surprised by my research year in fellowship when I was working on this project, because the grant created so much excitement. I felt like I could actually do this, and obtaining the grant upped the ante of investment and kept me excited. Plus, the grant allowed me to do everything, see the whole process, the full arc, and I’m not even done.

What barriers have you encountered with your research?

Not having all the control, like unplanned hospitalizations or advanced sickness in the patients. There are also things cost-wise that are needed for the research that I wouldn’t have had access to without the grant. I didn’t do much research in medical school and residency, since I was more focused on teaching, so I hadn’t been prepared for the administrative legwork. But, it’s something I’m learning.

Being able to follow up with the CHEST Foundation and attend the CHEST annual meeting are exciting ways to overcome any slumps or doubts, because you see the interest and encouragement for the work you’re doing. Receiving the travel grant and coming to the annual meeting as a new faculty member, it was the most high-yield conference I’ve ever attended. Every day, there is something new and interactive for development.

What advice would you give to someone who hasn’t received a grant before but is considering applying?

If they can get a good mentor, that’s invaluable. It takes perseverance, persistence, and passion, and if you believe your work is having an impact, it’s absolutely worth doing. Even if you apply and don’t get it the first time, try, try again. I have so much more faith in CHEST because of the positivity I see from the investment in my own mentor, who was a past foundation grant recipient and encouraged me to apply. CHEST gives ample opportunity to network and help to be steered in the right way. As a grant recipient and being folded into the CHEST community, you start to think, “I want this feeling again. Someone thinks this is important work.”