This article was published originally by endeavors on August 19th, 2020.
Baba Mass is a research technician in the Voruganti Lab within the UNC Nutrition Research Institute. He studies how genes and diet impact serum uric acid levels – a chemical created when the body breaks down substances called purines. Unhealthy amounts of uric acid can cause kidney and heart problems.
Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A: From primary school all the way to my sophomore year in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to be. But I fell in love with science when it was introduced to me in primary school. As a result, I chose to major in science in my junior year of high school, which helped pave the path to where I am today.
Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.
A: When my mother lost her battle to cancer, it took me a while to figure out what to do next. When I eventually decided to go back to school, I had a renewed sense of purpose. Though I am not currently doing any cancer-related work, I believe the research we do in precision nutrition at the Nutrition Research Institute is as equally important in our understanding of human health.
Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
A: As part of our research within the Voruganti Lab, we measure uric acid in biological samples like serum, plasma, and urine. These tests are carried out by using commercial assay kits that we buy from suppliers. After studying the assay principle and chemistry, I spoke with Dr. Voruganti about developing an in-house assay as effective as the kit we are using currently. I wrote a protocol and presented it to her, and she gave me her blessing to go ahead with the project. Over the course of a year, I was able to develop a uric acid assay that is as effective as, more sensitive, and cheaper than the commercial kits. This hands-on experience gave me a better understanding of the assay parameters and how to troubleshoot any issues we may face.
Q: Describe your research in 5 words.
A: Precision nutrition for optimum health.
Q: What are your passions outside of research?
A: Since becoming a parent, almost everything I do nowadays revolves around my two beautiful daughters: Jabou, who is 3 years old, and Mariam, who just turned 1. Before the pandemic hit, we would always do outdoor activities on the weekends or buy ice cream and go to the airport overlook to see planes take off and land. Now, with the limited outdoor activities, my wife and I find other creative ways to keep the kids busy because it is important for their psychological well-being.
I have also been reading quite a bit during the lockdown. I have always been curious about philosophy, but I just never took the time to read any texts. I have already finished “The Nichomachean Ethics” by Aristotle, and now I am reading “The Social Contract” by Rousseau.