Siddhant Bhoir, under the supervision of Prof Sivapriya Kirubakaran, is focussing on the chemical biology of a cancer-related protein – the Human Tousled-like kinase (TLK1) – involved in the DNA damage response pathway. TLKs belong to the category of protein kinases which are not explored much as molecular targets for anticancer therapy.

Preliminary studies have shown great potential and interesting results on this kinase. To broaden the scope of his research further, Siddhant intends to work on the cell biology of TLKs at the Louisiana State University.

Siddhant hopes that the successful completion of this cutting-edge collaborative project would help develop better treatments for cancer, with fewer side effects and enhanced survival rates.

We are using the small molecule inhibitor approach to study these proteins which can be helpful in developing new-age cancer therapeutics. Siddhant has successfully demonstrated a novel methodology for the expression and purification of human TLK1B in bacteria. I am very excited that he is going to one of the best labs working on TLK and am very happy for him. His incipient attraction towards molecular and cellular biology and the burning desire for a scientific career will be aptly fuelled by the Fulbright Nehru Doctoral Research Fellowship.

Prof Sivapriya Kirubakaran, supervisor

The other student, Nalini Natarajan, is also a research scholar of the Biological Engineering department. She has been working on her research since 2014, under the supervision of Prof Vijay Thiruvenkatam.

Nalini has worked on structural elucidation of proteins using X-ray crystallography. (X-ray crystallography is a technique used for determining the atomic and molecular structure of a crystal, in which the crystalline atoms cause a beam of incident X-rays to diffract into many specific directions. By measuring the angles and intensities of these diffracted beams, a crystallographer can produce a three-dimensional picture of the density of electrons within the crystal. From this electron density, the mean positions of the atoms in the crystal can be determined, as well as their chemical bonds, their disorder, and various other information. Source: Wikipedia)

Nalini has also worked on human proteins viz. hamartin (TSC1) and tuberin (TSC2) which are a part of the Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). They are known to play a significant role in several cellular signalling pathways. Mutations in these genes are known to lead to severe neurological disorders as well as various types of cancers.

In her research, Nalini is trying to understand the mechanism of interaction of these proteins at the molecular level.

During her research fellowship tenure at Prof Jia-Huai Wang’s laboratory at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Nalini will be involved in crystal data collection using a synchrotron X-ray source and protein structure solution. Hamartin & Tuberin’s structural data is an asset to understand their cellular aspects, which is key in development of drugs for both cancer and TSC. This will be a first-of-its-kind study if she gets the structure of this protein through X-ray crystallography. I am delighted that she is going to one of the top-notch places for this collaborative work through the Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research Fellowship.

Prof Vijay Thiruvenkatam, supervisor