Dr. Rajesh S. Gokhale
Battling the tuberculosis menace
Rajesh S. Gokhale
Director, CSIR – Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi
The Infosys Prize 2013 in Life Sciences is awarded to Dr. Rajesh S. Gokhale for his work in the field of lipid metabolism in M. tuberculosis. He discovered fatty acyl AMP ligases in tubercle bacillus, their role in the generation of the lipid components of its cell wall and of their existence in other organisms, where they play a role in biosynthesis of complex molecules.
Congratulatory Message from the Jury Chair - Inder Verma
“Each year two million people are infected and die of tuberculosis and there will be 10 million new patients every year. What Dr. Rajesh Gokhale has done is to discover some crucial enzymes that are necessary for the synthesis of these bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTb). This is an amazing achievement to find the complex structures that this bacteria makes that have been uncovered by Dr. Gokhale now offers great opportunities for really very important therapy of this terrible disease. I would like to congratulate Dr. Rajesh Gokhale for this wonderful scientific achievement and also the award of the 2013 Infosys Life Sciences Prize.”
Dr. Rajesh S. Gokhale did his M.Sc. in Biotechnology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and a Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and then carried out postdoctoral work at Stanford University. Prior to his current appointment, he served as faculty at the National Institute of Immunology. He is the Co-founder of Vyome Biosciences, a biopharmaceutical company developing drugs for dermatology care utilizing genomics knowledge.
Dr. Gokhale has earned international recognition for his work in understanding tuberculosis pathogenesis, with a focus to understand complex cell envelope coat of mycobacterium, a unique feature of this pathogen.
He is the recipient of several awards including the Swarnajayanti Fellowship (2006 – 2011), the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize (2006) and the National Bioscience Award for Career Development (2009).
Scope and Impact of Work
Every minute, one person dies of tuberculosis in India. The disease is caused by the infection of lungs with mycobacteria and is spread through the air. Dr. Rajesh Gokhale's pioneering work showed that Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTb), the bacteria causing the disease is capable of generating highly diverse set of cell wall lipids using very limited number of genes. The very thick lipid cell wall of this bacterium protects it from host defense mechanisms, and allows it to survive in a dormant form, impervious to drugs. To get to the bacteria, one needs to penetrate its fortress-like thick walls. Dr. Gokhale discovered that the genome sequence of MTb revealed many proteins with similarity to Polyketide synthases (PKS), which are large multifunctional enzymes, involved in the synthesis of the thick lipid walls.
Detailed elucidation of the biochemical mechanisms of the synthesis of complex lipids needed to form the lipid cell walls, unique only to the invader, but not the host, allows development of drugs that specifically target these enzymes. The current drugs to combat tuberculosis have to be taken each day for at least six months, posing a compliance challenge. Therefore, a single drug that can inhibit multiple targets holds great promise to be a very effective form of treatment for tuberculosis.
Dr. Rajesh S. Gokhale is an expert on polyketide synthases and, especially, on their role in the generation of the complex lipid structures in the M. tuberculosis cell wall. He is a leader in the study of the enzymology of polyketide synthases in tubercle bacilli. He is the discoverer of fatty acyl AMP ligases in M. tuberculosis, their role in the generation of the lipid components of its cell wall and of their existence in other organisms, where they play a role in complex organic biosynthesis. He also has an active program in understanding depigmenting disorder, Vitiligo in human skin, but he is most known for his biochemical studies in tubercle bacilli.