Dr Sovan Sarkar BSc, MSc, PhD

Dr Sovan Sarkar

Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences
Birmingham Fellow

Contact details

College of Medical and Dental Sciences
Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences
Institute of Biomedical Research
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Sovan Sarkar is a Birmingham Fellow at the University of Birmingham, and holds the distinction of Former Fellow for life at Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge. He is also involved in setting up academic and research collaborations with India. His laboratory studies the biological process of autophagy, which is an intracellular degradation pathway essential for cellular survival. Using human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and disease-specific human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), he works on the regulation and therapeutic application of autophagy in relation to human physiology and diseases. He aims to develop a pipeline originating from basic biology to drug discovery, and potentially translate the findings for biomedical applications. 

His research has been funded by grants from the Wellcome Trust, LifeArc and UKIERI (UK-India Education and Research Initiative), amongst others. He has also hosted researchers with Newton Bhabha PhD Placement Award, Rutherford Fellowship, University of Birmingham India Institute Visiting Fellowship and University of Birmingham Brazil Visiting Fellowship, amongst others.

Sovan has made several contributions during his tenure at University of Cambridge towards the identification of mTOR-independent signalling pathways and small molecules modulating autophagy. These findings not only provided mechanistic insights into the cell biology of this process, but also generated potential therapeutic candidates for diverse human diseases, including a number of neurodegenerative diseases, where upregulating autophagy acts as a protective pathway.

His work at Whitehead Institute in Massachusetts Institute of Technology involves the fundamental aspects of autophagy in hESCs, and its deregulation in hiPSC-based disease models of neurodegenerative and lysosomal storage disorders. He has authored more than 50 scientific publications, which have collectively received ~ 12000 citations, and have generated a number of patents and research features. His notable awards include Gates Cambridge Scholarship, Hughes Hall Research Fellowship, Biochemical Society Early Career Research Award in Cell Biology and Birmingham Fellowship.

See Sovan Sarkar lab website for further details.


  • PhD in Medical Genetics, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, University of Cambridge, UK, 2007.
  • MSc in Biotechnology, School of Biotechnology, Madurai Kamaraj University, India, 2002.
  • BSc in Physiology (Hons), Presidency College, University of Calcutta, India, 2000.


Dr Sovan Sarkar qualified with a BSc (Hons) in Physiology from Presidency College in 2000, securing first rank at University of Calcutta, India. He went on to study for an MSc in Biotechnology from Madurai Kamaraj University, India, completing in 2002. During his studies in India, he received several academic and research awards, including Summer Research Fellowship from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Department of Biotechnology Studentship from Government of India and the distinction of Rajiv Gandhi Science Talent Research Fellow. 

Sovan received the Gates Cambridge Scholarship in 2002 for pursuing his PhD at Cambridge Institute for Medical Research in University of Cambridge, UK, in the laboratory of Professor David Rubinsztein. He graduated in 2007 and continued his research at Cambridge as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate until 2009. During this time, he was elected as a Junior Research Fellow at Hughes Hall, a college in the University of Cambridge, and later received the distinction of Former Fellow for life. In 2010, Sovan joined the laboratory of Professor Rudolf Jaenisch at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA as a Post-Doctoral Associate. 

Sovan has been working in the field of autophagy for over a decade since his graduate studies in Cambridge. He made numerous contributions to this field, especially towards understanding the cellular signalling pathways and identification of chemical modulators regulating this intracellular process. One of his major contributions is uncovering the existence of mTOR-independent regulation of autophagy that has been instrumental in the discovery of a large number of candidate drugs of biomedical relevance. These small molecule autophagy enhancers are considered to be potential therapeutic candidates not only for the treatment neurodegenerative diseases but also for diverse human diseases where autophagy acts as a protective pathway.

Furthermore, he has provided mechanistic insights on the impairment of autophagy in certain neurodegenerative and lysosomal storages disorders, and how this can be rescued by chemical perturbations. In recent years, he has been working on the regulation and therapeutic application of autophagy in human disease-relevant cell types using human embryonic stem cells and disease-specific induced pluripotent stem cells. 

Sovan has co-authored more than 60 scientific publications that have collectively received over 19,000 citations. His work has generated a number of patents, attracted press releases, and has been highlighted in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, UK Channel 4 news, The Times of India, Cambridge University, Gates Cambridge and Whitehead Institute, amongst others. Based on his scientific accomplishments, he has received several travel and academic awards, including the Biochemical Society Early Career Research Award in Cell Biology, and has been featured as an autophagy researcher in the April 2014 issue of the journal, Autophagy.

Postgraduate supervision

Dr Sarkar is interested in supervising Doctoral and Masters research students in the following areas: 

  • The role and regulation of autophagy in human embryonic stem cells and in differentiated adult cell types.
  • The molecular mechanisms of mammalian autophagy in its role in cellular homeostasis, neurodegeneration, aging and metabolism.
  • Mechanisms of cellular degeneration and proteostasis in disease-relevant human cell types derived from disease-specific induced pluripotent stem cells.
  • Drug discovery in human disease-affected cell types derived from disease-specific induced pluripotent stem cells. 

If you are interested in studying any of these subject areas please contact Dr Sarkar directly, or for any general doctoral research enquiries, please email mds-gradschool@contacts.bham.ac.uk


Research Themes

Cell biology of autophagy, Intracellular trafficking pathways, Proteostasis, Human embryonic stem cells, Induced pluripotent stem cell based disease models, Neurodegeneration, Ageing, Lysosomal storage diseases, Chemical screening for drug discovery.

For details of research, please see Sovan Sarkar’s research website.

Video - Biochemical Society Early Career Research Award Lecture by Dr Sovan Sarkar (2012):


  • Birmingham Fellowship
  • Wellcome Trust
  • LifeArc

Other activities

Society Memberships

  • UK Autophagy Network, UK
  • Autophagy India Network, India
  • International Society for Stem Cell Research, USA
  • Biochemical Society, UK
  • Gates Scholars’ Society, Cambridge, UK
  • Hughes Hall Society, Cambridge, UK
  • Presidency College Alumni Association, Kolkata, India

University of Birmingham Associations

  • University of Birmingham India Institute
  • University of Birmingham Brazil Forum
  • Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences
  • Centre for Rare Disease Studies (CRDS) Birmingham
  • Birmingham University Stem Cell Centre


  • British Council Newton Trust Award (2015).
  • Birmingham Fellowship, University of Birmingham (2014–Present).
  • Whitehead Institute Postdoc Association Education Award (2013). 
  • Biochemical Society Early Career Research Award in Cell Biology (2012). 
  • Hughes Hall Former Fellow Distinction, University of Cambridge (2010–Present). 
  • Hughes Hall Junior Research Fellowship, University of Cambridge (2007–2010). 
  • Academy of Achievement Student Delegate Award (2004).
  • Honorary Elizabeth Cherry Research Students’ Scholarship (2004).
  • Gates Cambridge Scholarship (2002–2005). 
  • Department of Biotechnology Studentship, Government of India (2000–2002).
  • Rajiv Gandhi Science Talent Research Fellow Distinction (2000).


  • Regulating autophagy. Bradner J.E., Shen J.P., Perlstein E.O., Rubinsztein D.C., Sarkar S.and Schreiber S.L. World Intellectual Property Organization WO/2008/122038 (09 Oct 2008). 
  • cAMP-dependent induction of autophagy. Rubinsztein D.C., Sarkar S.and Williams A. World Intellectual Property Organization WO/2008/099175 (21 Aug 2008). 
  • Modulation of autophagy by calpain inhibition. Rubinsztein D.C., Sarkar S.and Williams A., Ttofi E., O’Kane C. and Floto R.A. World Intellectual Property Organization WO/2007/003941 (11 Jan 2007). 
  • Methods of autophagy induction in mammalian cells. Rubinsztein D.C. and Sarkar S. World Intellectual Property Organization WO/2006/079792 (03 Aug 2006).



Selected Publications

See Google Scholar Citations for full list of all publications, citations and h-index. See Sovan Sarkar lab website for full details of all publications.

Trehalose limits opportunistic mycobacterial survival during HIV co-infection by reversing HIV-mediated autophagy block. (2021) Sharma V., Makhdoomi M., Singh L., Kumar P., Khan N., Singh S., Verma H.N., Luthra K., Sarkar S. and Kumar D. Autophagy 17(2): 476-495.

Autophagy promotes cell and organismal survival by maintaining NAD(H) pools. (2020) Sedlackova L., Otten E.G., Scialo F., Shapira D., Kataura T., Carroll B., Seranova E., Rabanal-Ruiz Y., Kelly G., Stefanatos R., Nelson G., Acharjee A., Kenneth N., Trushin S., Zhang T., Bascom C.C., Tasseff R., Isfort R.J., Oblong J.E., Trushina E., Imoto M., Saiki S., Lazarou M., Chronakis M.P., Maddocks O.D.K., Sarkar S., Sanz A. and Korolchuk V.I.
BioRxiv [pre-print server for biology] doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.01.31.928424. Joint corresponding authors 

Human induced pluripotent stem cell models of neurodegenerative disorders for studying the biomedical implications of autophagy. (2020) Seranova E., Palhegyi A.M., Verma S., Dimova S., Lasry R., Naama M., Sun C., Barrett T., Rosenstock T.R., Kumar D., Cohen M.A., Buganim Y. and Sarkar S. Journal of Molecular Biology 432(8): 2754-2798. 

Autophagy in rare (non-lysosomal) neurodegenerative diseases. (2020) Zatyka M., Sarkar S. and Barrett T. Journal of Molecular Biology 432(8): 2735-2753. 

Chemical screening approaches enabling drug discovery of autophagy modulators for biomedical applications in human diseases. (2019) Panda P.K., Fahrner A., Vats S., Seranova E., Sharma V., Chipara M., Desai P., Torresi J., Rosenstock T., Kumar D. and Sarkar S. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology 7: 38. 

In vitro screening platforms for identifying autophagy modulators in mammalian cells. (2019) Seranova E., Ward C., Chipara M., Rosenstock T.R. and Sarkar S. Methods in Molecular Biology 1880: 389-428 

Selective autophagy and xenophagy in infection and disease. (2018) Sharma V., Verma S., Seranova E., Sarkar S. and Kumar D. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology 6: 147.

Mishra P., Dauphinee A.N., Ward C., Sarkar S., Gunawardena A.H.L.A.N. and Manjithaya R. (2017) Discovery of pan autophagy modulators identified by a high-throughput screen highlights macroautophagy as an evolutionarily conserved process across three eukaryotic kingdoms. Autophagy 13(9): 1556-1572.

Carroll, B., Maetzel, D., Maddocks, O.D.K., Otten, G., Ratcliff, M., Smith, G.R., Dunlop, E.A., Passos, J.F., Davies, O.R., Jaenisch, R., Tee, A.R., Sarkar, S. and Korolchuk, V.I. (2016) Control of TSC2-Rheb signaling axis by arginine regulates mTORC1 activity. eLife 5: e11058.

Brown, A., Patel, S., Ward, C., Lorenz, A., Ortiz, M., DuRoss, A., Wieghardt, F., Esch, A., Otten, E.G., Heiser, L.M., Korolchuk, V.I., Sun, C., Sarkar, S. and Sahay, G. (2016) PEG-lipid micelles enable cholesterol efflux in Niemann-Pick type C1 disease-based lysosomal storage disorder. Scientific Reports 6: 31750.

Kuo, S.Y., Castoreno, A.B., Aldrich, L.N., Lassen, K.G., Goel, G., Dančík, V., Kuballa, P., Latorre, I., Conway, K.L., Sarkar, S., Maetzel, D., Jaenisch, R., Clemons, P.A., Schreiber, S.L.,Shamji, A.F. and Xavier, R.J. (2015) Small-molecule enhancers of autophagy modulate cellular disease phenotypes suggested by human genetics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), USA 112(31): E4281-E4287.

Maetzel, M.*, Sarkar, S.*, Wang, H.*, Abi-Mosleh, L., Xu, P., Cheng, A.W., Gao, Q., Mitalipova, M. and Jaenisch, R. (2014) Genetic and chemical correction of cholesterol accumulation and impaired autophagy in hepatic and neural cells derived from Niemann-Pick type C patient-specific iPS cells. Stem Cell Reports 2(6): 866-880. *Equal contribution 

Buganim Y., Markoulaki S., van Wietmarschen N., Hoke H., Wu T., Ganz K., Akhtar-Zaidi B., He Y., Abraham B.J., Porubsky D., Kulenkampff E., Faddah D.A., Shi L., Gao Q., Sarkar S., Cohen M.A., Goldman J., Nery J.R., Schultz M.D., Ecker J.R., Xiao A., Young R.A., Lansdorp P.M. and Jaenisch R. (2014) The developmental potential of iPSCs is greatly influenced by reprogramming factor selection. Cell Stem Cell 15(3): 295-309. 

Sarkar, S., Carroll, B., Buganim, Y., Maetzel, D., Ng, A.H.M., Cassady, J.P., Cohen, M.A., Chakraborty, S., Wang, H., Spooner, E., Ploegh, H., Gsponer, J., Korolchuk, V.I. and Jaenisch, R. (2013) Impaired autophagy in the lipid storage disorder Niemann-Pick type C1 disease. Cell Reports 5(5): 1302-1315. 

Sarkar, S. (2013) Regulation of autophagy by mTOR and mTOR-independent pathways: Autophagy dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases and therapeutic application of autophagy enhancers. Biochemical Society Transactions 41(5): 1103-1130. 

Sarkar, S. (2013) Chemical screening platforms for autophagy drug discovery to identify therapeutic candidates for Huntington's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Drug Discovery Today: Technologies 10(1): e137-e144. 

Sahay, G., Querbes, W., Alabi, C., Eltoukhy, A., Sarkar, S., Zurenko, C., Karagiannis, E., Love, K., Chen, D., Zoncu, R., Buganim, Y., Schroeder, A., Langer, R. and Anderson, D.G. (2013) Efficiency of siRNA delivery by lipid nanoparticles is limited by endocytic recycling. Nature Biotechnology 31(7): 653-658. 

Buganim, Y., Itskovich, E., Hu, Y.C., Cheng, A.W., Ganz, K., Sarkar, S., Fu, D., Welstead, G.G.,Page, D.C. and Jaenisch, R. (2012) Direct reprogramming of fibroblasts into embryonic Sertoli-like cells by defined factors. Cell Stem Cell 11(3): 373-386. 

Sarkar, S., Korolchuk, V.I., Renna, M., Imarisio, S., Fleming, A., Williams, A., Garcia-Arencibia, M., Rose, C., Luo, S., Underwood, B.R., Kroemer, G., O'Kane, C.J. and Rubinsztein, D.C. (2011) Complex inhibitory effects of nitric oxide on autophagy. Molecular Cell 43(1): 19-32. 

Korolchuk, V.I., Saiki, S., Lichtenberg, M., Siddiqi, F.H., Roberts, E.A., Imarisio, S., Jahreiss, L., Sarkar, S., Futter, M., Menzies, F.M., O'Kane, C.J., Deretic, V. and Rubinsztein, D.C. (2011) Lysosomal positioning coordinates cellular nutrient responses. Nature Cell Biology 13(4): 453-460. 

Aguado, C.*, Sarkar, S.*, Korolchuk, V.I., Criado, O., Vernia, S., Boya, P., Sanz, P., de Cordoba, S.R., Knecht, E. and Rubinsztein, D.C. (2010) Laforin, the most common protein mutated in Lafora disease, regulates autophagyHuman Molecular Genetics 19(14): 2867-2876. *Equal contribution 

Davies, J.E., Rose, C., Sarkar, S. and Rubinsztein, D.C. (2010) Cystamine suppresses polyalanine toxicity in a mouse model of oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy. Science Translational Medicine 2(34): 34ra40. 

Sarkar, S., Ravikumar, B., Floto, R.A. and Rubinsztein, D.C. (2009) Rapamycin and mTOR-independent autophagy inducers ameliorate toxicity of polyglutamine-expanded huntingtin and related proteinopathies. Cell Death and Differentiation 16(1): 46-56. 

Williams, A.*, Sarkar, S.*, Cuddon, P.*, Ttofi, E.K., Saiki, S., Siddiqi, F.H., Jahreiss, L., Fleming, A., Pask, D., Goldsmith, P., O’Kane, C.J., Floto, R.A. and Rubinsztein, D.C. (2008) Novel targets for Huntington's disease in an mTOR-independent autophagy pathwayNature Chemical Biology 4(5): 295-305. *Equal contribution 

Sarkar, S., Krishna, G., Imarisio, S., Saiki, S., O'Kane, C.J. and Rubinsztein, D.C. (2008) A rational mechanism for combination treatment of Huntington's disease using lithium and rapamycinHuman Molecular Genetics 17(2): 170-178. 

Sarkar, S.*, Perlstein, E.O.*, Imarisio, S., Pineau, S., Cordenier, A., Maglathlin, R.L., Webster, J.A., Lewis, T.A., O’Kane, C.J., Schreiber, S.L. and Rubinsztein, D.C. (2007) Small molecules enhance autophagy and reduce toxicity in Huntington’s disease models. Nature Chemical Biology 3(6): 331-338. *Equal contribution 

Sarkar, S., Davies, J.E., Huang, Z., Tunnacliffe, A. and Rubinsztein, D.C. (2007) Trehalose, a novel mTOR-independent autophagy inducer, accelerates clearance of mutant huntingtin and alpha-synuclein. Journal of Biological Chemistry 282(8): 5641-5652. 

Chakrabortee, S., Boschetti, C., Walton, L.J., Sarkar, S., Rubinsztein, D.C. and Tunnacliffe, A. (2007) Hydrophilic protein associated with dessication tolerance exhibits broad protein stabilization function. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), USA 104(46): 18073-18078. 

Sarkar, S., Floto, R.A., Berger, Z., Imarisio, S., Cordenier, A., Pasco, M., Cook, L.J. and Rubinsztein, D.C. (2005) Lithium induces autophagy by inhibiting inositol monophosphatase. Journal of Cell Biology 170(7): 1101-1111.

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