When he lost his sister to an untreatable form of cancer, Tanaji T. Talele, Ph.D., Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, committed himself to creating drug therapies that would combat this insidious disease.
Dr. Talele recently received a $492,000 Support for Competitive Research Grant from the National Institutes of Health for his research in developing new therapeutic molecules to treat cancer. The protein family Dr. Talele is targeting is known as Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerases (PARPs), and the goal is to inhibit only those isoforms (i.e., proteins that are similar to each other and perform similar roles within cells) related to cancer cell growth.
“Selectivity is important,” he stressed. “These proteins are very similar, and it becomes challenging to develop a selective molecule for only one protein.” This project serves as a tool for biologists to understand the role of different proteins in that particular family by separating the ones that need to be targeted.
Dr. Talele also received a private grant of $167,000 from the University of California, San Francisco. “We are creating a single molecule to block two proteins in the cancer cells to circumvent resistance to certain drugs,” he noted, adding that the hope is by attacking these proteins, resistance will be eliminated.
A native of India, Dr. Talele was in the first grade when his sister (three years his senior) passed away. “She had a tumor that could not be treated,” he recalled. His family lived in a small village, and treatment options in the more developed cities at the time were not very advanced.
Dr. Talele learned English in the fifth grade. As a child he began writing “Ph.D.” after his name, signaling his intention to study science. By the eighth grade, he became fascinated with organic chemistry and the construction of molecules. From there, he decided to specialize in medicinal chemistry, which deals with the process of synthesizing new molecules for therapeutic benefits.
Dr. Talele earned his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in medicinal chemistry in India before coming to the US. During his academic career, he has authored or coauthored 92 peer-reviewed research papers and has more than 10 manuscripts currently being prepared for submission.
The University’s Vincentian mission of service has affected Dr. Talele dramatically since he arrived here in 2005; he believes that his research specialty closely parallels the mandate to bring healing to those in need.
He is grateful for the support he receives from all areas of the University, especially from the Office of Grants and Sponsored Research, the Office of Human Resources, and the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “They all play their part and make my job so much easier, allowing me to focus on the science,” he stressed.
Dr. Talele noted that the students working in his lab represent a diverse mix of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. All educational levels are represented, which includes undergraduate and master’s degree students, doctoral candidates, a postdoctoral fellow, and a technician currently working in the field.
Working on a project of this importance also helps the graduate students in his lab advance their own burgeoning careers, but Dr. Talele noted the most important outcome is that it advances the science and will help save lives.