Meet Sri Lankan Researcher- Yomani Sarathkumara
What are you currently working on ?
My current PhD research project aims to identify molecular immune signatures and pathogen proteins representing potential biomarkers of latent and sup-patent infections, using cutting-edge omic-based approaches. Specifically, custom protein-microarrays expressing target pathogen proteome and host transcriptomic analysis will be employed, to identify diagnostic immune signatures.
I completed the first two years of BSc (Hons) degree in Biomedical Science at BMS, Colombo 06 affiliated with Northumbria University, UK. Then I moved to Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK to complete the final year of the degree from 2013 to 2014 at Northumbria. My undergraduate research project focused on measuring antibody responses in individuals provoking hypersensitivity reactions when exposed to an air-borne avian antigen.
Returning back to Sri Lanka, I worked as a Research Assistant at the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka from 2015–2018. During my tenure as an RA, I was working on zoonotic infectious diseases including leptospirosis, hantavirus infection and melioidosis.
I completed my Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree at Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya (2016–2018). My thesis was titled “Exposure to hantavirus infection in a selected cohort of chronic kidney disease with uncertain aetiology (CKDu) patients and non-CKDu individuals in selected CKDu affected areas of Sri Lanka”. This research was a collaborative project with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine, Hokkaido University, Japan. So far I have authored/co-authored 8 publications in peer-reviewed international and local journals with a H-index of 3.
What encouraged you to pursue your research topic?
Asymptomatic, sub-patent and latent infections are considered as substantial pathogen reservoirs in the tropical sub-tropical regions worldwide. Effective diagnosis of such asymptomatic, sub-patent and latent infections is hindered by lack of understanding of host-pathogen immune responses. Learning about infectious diseases and how our body response against them, therefore, made me passionate about molecular and systems immunology.
What are the names of your current institutes and Research labs?
Centre for Molecular Therapeutics, Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM), James Cook University, Australia
Where do you find your best inspiration for your work?
By the work being done by other research scientists.
Can you share with us some of your publications?
What’s one of your biggest personal achievements so far?
There are several achievements that I have accomplished so far. Amongst them, I was recognised as a highly ranked PhD student and awarded top-up scholarships from both AITHM and James Cook University, Australia for my current research study.
I have authored/co-authored several scholarly publications in international and local peer-reviewed journals and presented my research in both local and international platforms. I received a University Research Fellowship in 2016 from the University of Peradeniya for my master’s research. In addition, I was fortunate to be selected as an exchange graduate research student at Hokkaido University from Japan-Asia Youth Exchange Program in Science (SAKURA Science) in 2017 and awarded a couple of travel grants to present at international platforms.
What lessons would you share with a budding researcher?
If you’re passionate about becoming a researcher you should really understand what are the opportunities out there. You should be able to choose an appropriate field of study that you’re interested in. It is also important to acquire new skills whilst improving your knowledge constantly. I find it is essential to build up local and international research collaborations too. Creating a professional resume is even more important. Scientific publications, attending conferences, workshops, receiving travel grants, fellowships are some key things that you need to look forward to as an upcoming researcher to be able to recognise you in academia.
What motivated you to be a researcher?
Research is all about exploring the unknown or when little is known and trying to identify the knowledge/research gaps whilst understanding what we already know. This concept in research motivated me throughout the journey so far.
If there is a chance, will you help build research in Sri Lanka?
I am very much happy to do so!
According to your opinion, what are the changes that the Sri Lankan education system needs to do, in order to meet the requirement of the international industry and academia?
According to my experiences working in a local university, I find that the undergraduates and sometimes even postgrad students are lacking the practical skills and abilities. It is more likely because of the education system gives priority to theoretical knowledge than hands-on experience in laboratory experiments. Science education should focus on improving curiosity, skills and logical thinking.