TB is a huge burden, says NASI award winner in biology

Dr Vijay Soni who currently works at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, is investigating the host pathogen interaction and regulation of human immune system upon tuberculosis infection

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Dr Vijay Soni (left) who was recently awarded NASI-Young Scientist Platinum Jubilee Award -2017 by The National Academy of Sciences, India. Right panel in showing the protein structure of GlmU on which he has worked for almost six years and identified it as most promising drug target to cure Tuberculosis.

New Delhi/New York: Recently, Dr Vijay Soni who derives his academic credentials from the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi and BITS-Pilani, Hyderabad won the prestigious NASI-Young Scientist Platinum Jubilee Award for the year 2017, in the field of biology. The National Academy of Sciences (NASI), Allahabad, India institutes this award every year to recognize promise, creativity, and excellence in young scientists on the basis of work carried out in India.

Currently working at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, Vijay says he is committed to continue efforts towards his dream of Tuberculosis free India. He is investigating the host pathogen interaction and regulation of human immune system upon tuberculosis infection with the help of new cutting edge technology like metabolomics (metabolome profiling).

Giving a glimpse of his research on Tuberculosis, Vijay explained that alarming increase in the incidence of TB is a cause of concern. “Because of poor adherence to the drugs by patients, drug resistant strains (Multiple Drug Resistant (MDR) and Extensively Drug Resistant (XDR)) are emerging which are difficult to treat. Reports of totally drug resistant (TDR) TB are more threatening, he says.The fight with TB demands sincere efforts from patients to stick to TB drug regimen. The researchers, on the other hand, also need to speed up the development of new therapeutic strategies, not only against active bacteria but also against latent TB,” he said.

Vijay pointed out that the cell wall of any bacteria is the first line of defense and interaction with the host. His group targeted one of the most important gene and metabolic pathway of the cell wall synthesis of TB bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis;Mtb) named as glmu. They have determined the detailed crystal structure and biochemistry of the protein GlmU. They generated a gene knock down strain of glmu in Mtb and determined the essentiality of the gene for bacterial survival at different stages of growth and during TB infection in mice and guinea pigs. These findings led them to the development of a new therapeutic molecule- Oxazolidine (Oxa33) which specifically targets the protein (GlmU) and is capable of killing bacteria even in TB infected mice. Thus, the study provides a new drug target (GlmU) as well as a lead molecule (Oxa33) for future TB drug interventions.

Vijay’s research has been published in two prestigious international science journals- PLOS Pathogen (in 2015) and Journal of Biological Chemistry (in 2012). He has 12 international publications to his credit as well one patent on the new antituberculosis molecule Oxa33. He was also honored by Inspiring Science Award 2017 by TNQ-Cell Press, BioAsia Innovation award 2016 from Global BioBusiness Forum, and Global Health Award from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for his discovery on GlmU and Oxa33.

While thanking NASI for recognition, Vijay mentioned, “It is a popular belief that it is never easy for the youngest to be heard. In a world full of eminent scientists, whose unremitting efforts are leading to spectacular scientific discoveries, the recognition of our work gives me a sense of absolute delight. It gives me a feeling of contentment that our efforts have been counted and we have been able to deliver and contribute our bit to the society. I am highly grateful to my mentors Dr Vinay K Nandicoori, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi and Prof. D. Sriram, BITS-Pilani, Hyderabad for showing me the path which has eventually brought me to this appreciation. Also, worth mention is the remarkable contribution of my group members. This appreciation of our work has multiplied the courage and persuades me to keep up the work for scientific development.”

Apart from research, Vijay’s interest in entrepreneurship motivated him to start his new venture named “Scipreneur (Pvt Ltd)”, for Entrepreneurship In Science. ‘Scipreneur’ is an initiative to bridge scientific research to market and industries. He is making new efforts to globalize the platform to make scientific development easier and faster. His venture is a step towards translation of scientific facts and discoveries.