Published: March 13, 2024 By

Photo caption: An organoid patterned into desired shape using engineered biomaterial. Cell boundary is in green with magenta nuclei.

Kaustav Bera with the mountains blurred in the backgroundKaustav Bera, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, was awarded a three-year postdoctoral fellowship from the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation, which supports career growth of young scientists engaged in basic biomedical research.

The highly prestigious and very selective fellowship—less than 5 percent of applications are awarded—will support Bera’s postdoctoral training in studying the body’s maintenance of the gut epithelium, the inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract. The fellowship provides Bera, a member of CU Boulder’s Anseth Research Group, with a combined stipend of $220,500 over three years along with a $1,500 annual research allowance.

“I am honored to have received this fellowship and grateful for the trust the scientific committee has shown towards my scientific proposal,” Bera said. “Besides the financial benefits from the award, I am excited to be associated with this prestigious scientific community of past awardees, scientific advisory committee members and biomedical research luminaries, some of whom have been my research role models.”

Bera received his PhD in chemical and biomolecular engineering in 2022 from Johns Hopkins University. At CU Boulder he studies how the shape and function of the gut epithelium, a single layer of cells that plays a crucial role in nutrient absorption and secretion of digestive enzymes, is maintained. This layer also acts as a barrier to protect against harmful substances.

In a healthy state, intestinal stem cells frequently divide and regenerate to maintain the integrity of the epithelium in a highly controlled manner. But irregularities can lead to various diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer, Bera said. 

Utilizing innovative biomaterial-based platforms developed in the laboratory of Distinguished Professor Kristi Anseth, Bera aims to gain deeper insights into how different factors precisely regulate the epithelial composition. He also collaborates with Associate Professor Peter Dempsey from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to further develop three-dimensional models known as organoids which are derived from stem cells or tissue samples and mimic the function of organs or tissues in a laboratory setting.

“At the completion of this research, we should have a clearer understanding of how certain intestinal diseases can be better managed,” Bera said.