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22 April 2024

Science Made Me with Chanchal Kumar – leveraging single-cell approaches in pain research

Science Made Me with Chanchal Kumar
Chanchal Kumar was a computer scientist and on a good career path in his home country of India. But a new passion prompted him to give it up and start all over again professionally. Today, he is leading Grünenthal’s Bioinformatics team that has swapped population-level research for single-cell approaches, some of the most modern methods currently available in biomedical science.

Chanchal Kumar has always nurtured an insatiable desire to turn data into knowledge. Together with his team, he uses innovative computational technologies to investigate the causes of pain across trillions of cells in the human body.

Quote Chanchal Kumar

On average, the human body has more than 30 trillion cells. When a person has a disease, something within that huge network of cells is going wrong. Chanchal Kumar and his team of scientists deploy state-of-the-art data analytics and digital technologies to pinpoint the cells that cause chronic pain. As part of their daily work, they leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to zoom in on the body’s pain pathways and identify exactly which cells need to be targeted so that we can develop innovative and more precise pain treatments.

Exploring single-cell approaches

Pain patients often struggle to find treatments that provide adequate relief. Chanchal’s research aims to provide better treatments by improving the understanding of pain at the cellular and molecular levels. “In the past, scientists relied on population-level research that led to misunderstandings,” he says. “Imagine you have four horses, three swans and two hippos. The combined average is a short-legged horse with wings, a sort of Pegasus. But that’s not a true representation of what you have. It does not exist.”

Chanchal’s team has swapped population-level research for single-cell approaches. These are among the most modern methods currently available in biomedical science. At Grünenthal, we have invested in perfecting key aspects of single-cell research in-house to apply them effectively in pain research.

“One single-cell experiment generates hundreds of Gigabytes of data. That’s why we’ve built a customised digital platform for integrating and analysing all of that data. It lets us elucidate which subsets of cellular populations may be driving pain. And we intend to use this insight to develop novel, very precise pain drugs,” Chanchal explains.

Always searching for knowledge

Single-cell omics is still a fairly new scientific field for pain research. Chanchal’s unusual skillset makes him a perfect fit for this emerging discipline. He began his career as a computer scientist in India. After reading about new research that used genetic algorithms to investigate ovarian cancer, he felt inspired to pursue a PhD at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Munich, Germany. Chanchal’s first steps in the pharma industry took him to Singapore and Sweden before joining Grünenthal in 2021.

“I have an insatiable desire to turn data into knowledge and use it for good,” he says. “Looking ahead, I am excited about the potential to obtain greater granularity on how pain affects every level of the cellular hierarchy – from DNA to RNA, proteins and a lot of entities in between. Our ambition is to piece together diverse multi-level data to obtain a much more resolved view of the cellular and molecular machinery that underpins pain. More sophisticated methods will help us interrogate cells at deeper levels to get an even clearer picture.”


Inspired by Chanchal's story?

Feel free to explore the Science Made Me episodes of Sevil, Maria, Sarthak, Sebastian and Dalena and explore our open positions.


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