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My interest in natural products dates back to my undergraduate research project on the chemical investigation of a reputed Sri Lankan medicinal plant. During my graduate and postdoctoral research with Prof. Derek Barton I was able to gain experience in the isolation, synthesis and biosynthesis of Erythrina alkaloids and yeast sterols. The training I had with Professor Barton and my biology background helped me to initiate research programs on a wide variety of topics in natural products chemistry. Subsequent postdoctoral training with Professor Carl Djerassi extended my research experience into the area of marine natural products.
I have been engaged in many different areas of natural products research ranging from screening to isolation, structure elucidation, partial and total synthesis of bioactive molecules. My experience in synthetic organic chemistry would prove beneficial in chemical interconversions sometimes useful in the structure elucidation of natural products, structure modifications required for structure-activity relationship (SAR) studies, synthesis of analogs with enhanced biological activity, and in total or partial synthesis of novel biologically active natural products with limited supply, a large quantity of which may be required for further biological evaluation, toxicological studies and clinical trials. Of the 24 years of my research/academic career in natural products chemistry, I have spent at least 15 years working at the bench. This has given me the opportunity to learn a variety of techniques and instrumentation used in natural products research.
I am committed to the continuation of my interests in natural products research and to the establishment of research programs dealing with the isolation and synthesis of natural products with a variety of biological activities. Research in several major areas will be undertaken with the main emphasis on utilization of arid plant and microorganism resources for development of natural products based pharmaceuticals to treat cancer, AIDS, infective (bacterial, fungal, viral) diseases and biocides to control insect and plant vectors. Priority will be given to novel structural types with biological activities. A search for abundant plant-derived natural products will also be conducted with the goal of converting these into value added products by chemical and/or bio-transformations. In the field of semisynthesis, I would like to continue my research interests in the anticancer drug, taxol, making a variety of analogs for qualitative and quantitative SAR (QSAR) studies with the eventual goal of making a simple bioactive analog of taxol with clinical utility.
I especially enjoy teaching topics in natural products chemistry, theory and application of spectroscopic techniques for structure elucidation, synthetic methodology and biosynthesis of natural products. From an educational and training viewpoint, natural products research embraces important techniques in separation science and spectroscopic methods which are valued in many practical settings especially in agricultural, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. While providing an excellent introduction to these techniques, participation in the proposed research programs will provide undergraduate and graduate students to develop skills in separation science and spectroscopic methods which would facilitate their entry into career positions in academic and industrial research.
I wish to establish links with scientists from academia and industry working in areas related to natural products development in a mutually beneficial manner. I believe such collaboration would lead to more useful results with possible immediate applications. I also intend to pursue active collaboration in the area of drug discovery with counterpart scientists in the U.S. and some developing countries. I have already initiated collaboration with scientists from Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Such collaboration has provided access to hitherto uninvestigated plant and marine organisms, some of which may already be in use in traditional medicines in these countries.