“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.