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Prof Ganesh Nagaraju from IISc awarded the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for unravelling DNA repair mechanisms

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Photo: Prof Ganesh Nagaraju via IISc

Dr Ganesh Nagaraju, Associate Professor at the Department of Biochemistry, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, has been awarded the 2018 Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in Biological Sciences for his work on DNA repair, chromosome instability, genetic diseases and cancer.

The Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize is a prestigious award in India presented to researchers for outstanding contributions to science and technology. Named after the Founder Director of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, the award consists of Rs 5,00,000 prize money and a citation plaque. The award recognises contributions to both fundamental and applied research in biological sciences, chemical sciences, engineering sciences, mathematical sciences, medical sciences, physical sciences, and earth, atmosphere, ocean and planetary sciences.

A key aspect of Prof Nagaraju's research is finding out how DNA in our cells is repaired. Our DNA, which stores all the genetic information, also controls the biological processes of a cell. Harmful radiations and cancer-causing substances in our environment, and free radicals, or unstable atoms, produced in our body, are known to damage our DNA. As a result, our body can develop various genetic diseases and cancers. However, the good news is that our cells can repair this damage and ward off unwanted consequences.

“Our major focus has been in deciphering the molecular mechanisms of DNA repair, with a particular focus on a pathway called homologous recombination”, says Prof Nagaraju in an interview with Research Matters. Homologous recombination is a cellular process that repairs a damaged DNA molecule using information copied from an undamaged DNA molecule.

Prof Nagaraju’s research has also helped us understand the role of RAD51 paralogs, a family of proteins, in repairing DNA using the homologous recombination pathway and suppressing tumours. “RAD51 paralogs are known to have tumour suppressors functions, and mutations in these genes have been identified in breast and ovarian cancers”, he explains. The research group under Prof Nagaraju has also identified that during perturbations in DNA replication in a cancerous cell, these proteins help to protect and restart the replication forks to complete the genome duplication.

The research on DNA repair mechanisms also helps in developing effective anti-cancer drugs. Prof Nagaraju’s group recently developed a novel drug that binds DNA, in collaboration with Prof A.R. Chakravarty’s group at IISc. This drug explicitly targets cancer cells with defective homologous recombination pathway. The researchers plan to test this drug soon on animals to understand its efficiency.

A winner of the B.M.Birla Science Prize in Biology, the National Bioscience Award for Career Development (N-BIOS Prize) and the Sir C.V. Raman Young Scientist Award from the Government of Karnataka, Prof Nagaraju is elated about the recent recognition.

"This award is considered as one of the highest award for Science in India. I am delighted to receive it and feel that it is a great encouragement for continuing to carry out excellent research in India", signs off Prof Nagaraju.