“Ac­cept fail­ure but never give up”

A leading sci­en­tist in In­dia, Dr Gokhale has per­formed path­break­ing work in the field of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis re­search.By Son­ali Achar­jee


With a back­ground in chem­istry, Dr Ra­jesh. S. Gokhale had sel­dom paid much in­ter­est to bi­ol­ogy as a child. How­ever, dur­ing his MSc in biotech­nol­ogy from the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy ( IIT) Bom­bay, he dis­cov­ered a de­sire to ap­ply his knowl­edge of chem­istry in the field of bi­o­log­i­cal re­search. Dr Gokhale went on to com­plete his Ph. D. in Molec­u­lar Biophysics from the In­dian In­sti­tute of Sci­ence, Ban­ga­lore and then car­ried out post­doc­toral work at Stan­ford Univer­sity. To­day he has earned wide­spread recog­ni­tion for his work in dis­cov­er­ing 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.

“Each year two mil­lion people are in­fected and die of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and there will be 10 mil­lion new pa­tients ev­ery year. What Dr Gokhale has done is to dis­cover some cru­cial en­zymes that are nec­es­sary for the syn­the­sis of these bac­te­ria, My­cobac­terium tu­ber­cu­lo­sis ( MTb). It is an amaz­ing achieve­ment to find the com­plex struc­tures that this bac­te­ria makes that have been un­cov­ered by Dr Gokhale. This now of­fers great op­por­tu­ni­ties for re­ally very im­por­tant ther­apy of this ter­ri­ble dis­ease,” says In­der Verma, Jury Chair for the In­fosys Sci­ence Prize in Life Sci­ences. Pre­vi­ously Dr Gokhale has also been con­ferred the Swar­na­jayanti Fel­low­ship ( 2006 – 2011), the Shanti Swarup Bhat­na­gar Prize ( 2006) and the Na­tional Bio­science Award for ca­reer de­vel­op­ment. Apart from join­ing CSIR – In­sti­tute of Ge­nomics and In­te­gra­tive Bi­ol­ogy as a di­rec­tor in 2009, he has also co- founded Vy­ome Bio­sciences, a bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany de­vel­op­ing drugs for der­ma­tol­ogy care util­is­ing ge­nomics knowl­edge.

LIFE AS A SCI­EN­TIST To be hon­est I didn’t en­joy bi­ol­ogy much in school. There was too much the­o­ret­i­cal mug­ging up and lit­tle prac­ti­cal work. But as I pur­sued my masters I started to en­joy think­ing about new projects and con­stantly chal­leng­ing my­self. I also dis­cov­ered var­i­ous as­pects of bi­ol­ogy that caught my in­ter­est and I wanted to ex­plore them fur­ther. Look­ing back now I re­alise that the best part of be­ing a sci­en­tist is ac­tu­ally tack­ling the un­known and dis­cov­er­ing some­thing for the first time. The feel­ing is un­like any­thing you’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced. Sci­en­tists are very lucky that way be­cause we get paid for do­ing some­thing we en­joy.

MY RE­SEARCH I was in­trigued by My­cobac­terium tu­ber­cu­lo­sis while re­turn­ing back to In­dia from Stan­ford in 1999. I wanted to use a good clin­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal mix to un­der­stand its com­plex struc­ture bet­ter. Right now the dis­cov­ery part of my re­search is over. We are now work­ing on the trans­la­tion part; fig­ur­ing out ways in which we can man­u­fac­ture mol­e­cules to tar­get spe­cific en­zymes of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and whether they can be made into safe drugs for hu­man use. I have also be­gun some work with luko­derma. I think it’s a vastly un­ex­plored do­main and I am keen to un­der­stand the causes of the dis­ease bet­ter.

LEARN TO FAIL It took me nearly four years to set up my tu­ber­cu­lo­sis re­search work. It was frus­trat­ing at first but I re­alised it is im­por­tant to ac­cept fail­ure and yet never give up. I think play­ing sports as a child re­ally taught , me to de­velop a pos­i­tive out­look. From sports I learnt that you might not win to­day but you will win some­day.


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