Department of Medicinal Chemistry
College of Pharmacy
As a kid, I had a very curious mind. I remember how my older cousins teased me by name-calling me ‘Prof’ (professor). I was fortunate to be born and grow up in Sri Lanka, a country with nature’s sweetest touches and an extraordinarily rich and unique bio-diversity. Despite being a bank officer, my father had a great passion for nature and science. His passion, my mom’s guidance, and my own curiosity inspired me to become a scientist. In grade school, I wanted to be a plant biologist. Then, in college, I realized that while I was not that good at biology, I excelled in chemistry, particularly organic chemistry. Therefore, I decided to pursue my graduate studies in Organic Chemistry, which let me unite my passions for science and nature.
After I graduated from University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, with my BS (honors) degree, specializing in chemistry, I flew across the world to join the Ph.D. program in Michigan State University’s Department of Chemistry. My dissertation research focused on the development of analogues of a major anticancer agent – paclitaxel (Taxol®). Basically, I modified the steps in the natural pathway to obtain more efficacious drug candidates. This process is called biocatalysis. Given my passion for nature, you can imagine how much I appreciated the idea of biocatalysis. The thought of taking lessons from nature to support our ideas was exciting. I was certain about my research approach in my independent career long before graduation.
The future I want to create is one in which I guide future generations in finding their enduring passions and help them being persistent in pursuing their ultimate career goals.
My career is centered on my desire to discover biologically important molecules, particularly the ones that are important in improving human health. To gain more expertise in drug development, I found an opportunity to pursue my postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan’s College of Pharmacy. My training at the University of Michigan focuses on developing treatments for tuberculosis by taking a medicinal chemistry approach. At U of M, I collaborate with a team of scientists who have experience in both academia and the pharmaceutical industry, and who share the same ultimate goal of improving human health. Our research is very practical and no longer restricted to basic academic research. I immensely enjoy the new perspective of my research and the many opportunities it offers to fill in the gaps of my knowledge in the drug discovery process.
I had multiple opportunities as a graduate student and as a postdoctoral scholar to collaborate with undergraduate, graduate, and high school students. My experiences in research, teaching, and mentoring inspired me to become a faculty member so that I would be in a position to pass on my passion for chemistry, with its connection to nature. I teach mostly organic chemistry and biochemistry, therefore finding the connection to nature is almost effortless. At this point, the future I want to create is one in which I guide future generations in finding their enduring passions and help them being persistent in pursuing their ultimate career goals.