Dr. Nirmal Singh, MassBay Community College’s Chair of the Biotechnology Department and founding Director/Principal Investigator of the Center for Therapeutics and Genomics Training at MassBay, is a renowned scientist with a remarkable list of accomplishments and patented discoveries, including identification of a crucial gene element called “ISS-N1” in the Human Survival Motor Neuron gene. This vital discovery led to the first FDA-approved treatment for the dreaded children’s disease, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). He also has developed genetically-modified tomato plants with the aim of developing an edible vaccine for the gastrointestinal disease, cholera. His career trajectory has navigated him to MassBay where he now proudly teaches the next generation of scientists.
“I am incredibly excited and motivated to lead the various programs in our biotechnology department. I am convinced that our students can engage in research-based labs that connect to, and will help solve, current biomedical problems. The current global pandemic caused by COVID-19 is highlighting an ever-demanding need for biotech/biomanufacturing training. Biotechnology, biomanufacturing, and genomics have a very crucial role to play in the fight against diseases, in developing vaccines, and in improving agriculture production to manage starvation. The demand for scientists and biotechnicians will escalate more than ever before. We need many more skilled workers to develop and perform reliable diagnostic tests, therapeutics, and, eventually, vaccines. I am happy that our world-renowned biotech lab is well-equipped with the latest world-class equipment to train our students. My research has seen a therapeutic development journey from ‘bench to bedside.’ After training at MassBay’s biotech labs, our students can be a valuable part of the workforce in the fast-growing life sciences/biotech industries both here in Massachusetts and around the world. I know that our students will benefit academically and professionally from working on biotech research with scientists in the field.”
Singh chose to work at MassBay because, “MassBay’s state-of-the-art lab, which is set up for advanced biotech learning and training, will allow me to transfer the knowledge that I’ve acquired over the decades to transform a new generation.” He loves working with the diverse group of students at MassBay, many of whom are currently underrepresented in STEM fields, and appreciates the opportunity to meet people from all around the world.
“I believe that every student has the unique ability to do their best,” Singh often receives letters from former students, highlighting their current successes and thanking him for his help along the way, for which he feels incredibly honored. “Helping those students who have had no hope for their future, but once you ignite their scientific curiosity and you tell them they have every capability to be successful, that’s very gratifying.”
Singh has been working diligently to develop the MassBay Center for Therapeutics and Genomics, which will provide training for students in the latest information, technologies, and equipment used in genomics, biomanufacturing, and biopharmaceuticals. "Students will be taught through advanced, hands-on laboratory courses that align with industries focusing on biomanufacturing, genomics, cancer, and rare disease treatments. Through this Center, I will also be able to offer regional high school students access to our biotechnology facilities for dual enrollment courses and Summer Bridge activities."
“The training the Center provides will be a first-of-its-kind at the community college level. It will be well-positioned to be a national model for other two-year programs. Through the Center, I plan to train and educate our students to acquire skill sets that are often required in the biotechnology industry, including the biomanufacturing process and biopharma research and development. Familiarity with these techniques will help our students in finding high-paying jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. These techniques and skills will also provide a sturdy base for those students who are willing and would like to pursue their career education in four-year colleges and universities or at advanced research and development laboratories in Massachusetts and across the globe.”
Singh is devoted to improving upon and expanding the Biotechnology associate degree program and recently developed a new course called, "The Molecular and Developmental Biology," in addition to his current work developing a new program concentration called "Genomics and Biomanufacturing." The new course will allow students to transfer credits to Framingham State University after completion, and the concentration will provide skills that are in exceedingly high demand in the pharmaceutical industry.
Singh received his Ph.D. from the University of Delhi in India. “I studied two highly therapeutically-relevant plants: Momordica charantia and Ocimum sanctum. My research developed new protocols for the in-vitro regeneration of those plants. That discovery made a significant impact on the improvement of the plants for therapeutic purposes. Subsequently, I developed genetically-modified tomato plants to produce an antigen to develop an edible vaccine. I published those findings in peer-reviewed, international journals such as Plant Growth Regulation and a series of articles in the journal, Plant Cell Reports.”
One of Singh's other significant scientific accomplishments happened while he was a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS). "My research contribution, related to gene therapy, was identifying a gene site, ISS-N1, that led to the first FDA-approved treatment for the devastating genetic disease, ‘SMA’ (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). On this project, I have been able to provide new insight into the genetic interactions that were behind SMA and discover a new genetic element, ‘Intronic Splicing Silencer N1,’ termed as ‘ISS-N1,’ that prevents a key backup gene, SMN2, in SMA patients from producing adequate amounts of the vital protein, SMN. This discovery has been a critical first step toward the creation of the first-ever SMA treatment regimen, a gene therapy, that has enabled the most critically-ill SMA patients to make essential SMN protein. I am genuinely humbled by, and grateful for, the enormous impact my research has made. At the UMMS, I also generated the Tph1-CFP Transgenic Mouse line to trace the origin hitherto unrecognized lineage of serotonin cells in the intestine and stomach that did not arise from precursor cells expressing the cell fate-determining transcription factor, Neurogenin3."
Singh has a message for those considering going into the STEM field. “Being a scientist, you do not have to sacrifice all of your social life, but you have to have killer instincts to contribute something positive and to generate new knowledge in the field. You must be focused, an active learner, and accustomed to working in a diverse group setup. You must be aware that most of your experiments will fail, but you never want to give up. You do not have to be frustrated. You have to learn how to enjoy the 1% of your successes. Be persistent; you will be successful.”
Singh is married with two daughters, his youngest wanting to follow in his footsteps. He loves to travel and has a passion for agriculture, gardening and planting.
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