Name: Dr Tharindi Dayara Panduwawala
I was born and brought up in Sri Lanka, a developing country that has been through many hardships, yet strives to stand strong. From a young age, I have been involved in several charitable organizations dedicated to serving the underprivileged, including the Interact and Rotaract clubs under the Rotary movement and the United Nations. I am passionate about improving quality of life, especially through healthcare. This, coupled with my interest in chemistry, put me on a rollercoaster ride to get to where I am today.
Coming from a background where everyone expects you to become a medical doctor, lawyer or engineer, my parents gave me complete freedom to be what I want to be. I studied at Bishop’s College, Colombo from primary school through to advanced level. I must say that the wonderful chemistry teachers I had the pleasure of meeting, both in school and outside of school, fuelled my interest in chemistry. Since then I have come across many exemplary individuals in the field of science, both closer to home and 5500 miles away. Having completed my undergraduate degree in Chemistry (Hons) at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka, followed by a one year assistant lectureship at the same department, I decided to move to the UK for postgraduate studies. Of course, there is a reason why the University of Oxford is ranked first in the world, and the quality of research and education here was an incentive to fly almost half way across the world. My doctoral thesis was under the supervision of Prof. Mark Moloney. I worked on ‘Natural product guided antibiotic drug discovery: tetramates as core scaffolds’ for which I received a commendation from the University’s MPLS division. We were inspired by the antibiotic activity of natural products containing the tetramate core scaffold and were using biology-oriented synthesis to generate a library of compounds in search of a new class of antibiotics.
I work as a postdoctoral researcher (medicinal chemist) in the field of antibiotics, in Prof. Christopher Schofield’s research group. I’m involved in a highly collaborative research project (under the ENABLE consortium). Our goal is to develop a novel metallo-β-lactamase inhibitor to enable antibiotics to combat multidrug resistant bacteria. It is currently a lead-to-candidate drug discovery programme that has progressed from hit-to-lead, with successful in vivo efficacy for the lead candidate with a partner antibiotic. The project involves collaborations with institutes across Europe.
As we know, to date, β-lactam antibiotics remain the most widely used class of antibiotics. However, over the years, their efficacy has been compromised by bacterial resistance, mainly due to the evolution of β-lactamases, most importantly metallo-β-lactamases (MBLs), because they hydrolyse all classes of β-lactams. There are no clinically useful inhibitors available to target MBLs. Therefore, there is currently an unmet clinical need, which, if not resolved, will have significant impact on quality of life for patients. Our aim is to develop a new metallo-β-lactamase inhibitor for clinical use to address this void in MBL inhibitors in the clinic.
My main role is the synthesis of target structures. In addition, I also try my hand at biochemistry; mainly inhibition studies by NMR spectroscopy and fluorescence-based biochemical assays.
A little bit extra
Outside of science, I enjoy rowing. While in Sri Lanka, I rowed both at national and international level and I have continued to row for my college since moving to Oxford. In addition, I also enjoy long distance running, parasailing and jet skiing to name but a few.
In terms of career plans, I very much enjoy science! If all goes well, I would love to continue to work in the field of medicinal chemistry in an industrial setting.