September 5, 2018
Sumit Bandekar
Congratulations to Sumit Bandekar, winner of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Individual Predoctoral Fellows.

Sumit Bandekar, Medicinal Chemistry PhD Candidate, has been awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Individual Predoctoral Fellows.

The award supports promising doctoral candidates who will perform dissertation research and training for a PhD degree in a scientific health-related field relevant to the mission of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) during the tenure of the award. The award will provide Sumit with two years of funding, including support for the majority of his stipend, tuition, fees, and health insurance.

Sumit is completing his PhD under the supervision of Dr. Janet Smith, Margaret J. Hunter Collegiate Professor in the Life Sciences and Professor of Biological Chemistry, Medical School; Research Professor, Life Sciences Institute; and Faculty Associate in the Interdepartmental Program in Medicinal Chemistry. Sumit began his dissertation research in, and remains a member of, Dr. John Tesmer’s lab. Dr. Tesmer recently relocated to Purdue University.

Sumit hopes that his ambitious dissertation research will ultimately lead to improvements in care for individuals suffering from uveal melanoma. “Uveal melanoma is a cancer of the pigment-containing cells of the eye and has an extremely high fatality rate. There are currently no effective chemotherapeutics on the market for this disease,” says Sumit. “In collaboration with the Gutkind Lab at UC-San Diego, my lab (Tesmer Lab) has determined the mechanism by which the signaling protein Trio is responsible for transmitting cancerous signals in uveal melanoma. Experiments which reduce the levels of Trio have shown promising results in animal models of uveal melanoma,” continues Sumit. “Trio is a very large protein (within the top 1% of all annotated human proteins) and has many pieces that are not well understood. Additionally, because Trio's job in the cell is to interact with other proteins, the pathway to targeting this protein with a drug is not straightforward. It is therefore important that we have a strong foundational base in understanding Trio before we can begin effective drug screening.”

“As a structural biology lab, we try and understand how pieces of Trio work by solving their 3-dimensional structure. I have solved the structure of a portion of Trio called ‘TrioC’ using a technique called X-ray crystallography,” explains Sumit. “This new information helps us understand how Trio propagates cancerous signals in the uveal melanoma disease state.  Using this new structure, we can now explain how specific mutations in Trio can lead to increases in cancerous signaling by examining how specific amino acids in the protein interact in 3-dimensional space. “

“Although it will likely be a long time before someone discovers a drug targeting Trio, understanding how this protein works are the first steps to doing so, and thus to improving the standard of care for patients with uveal melanoma,” Sumit concludes.

"Sumit is a terrific student who has taken it upon himself to have a broad interdisciplinary research experience ranging from physics to bacteriology to chemistry,” says Dr. Tesmer. “He joined my lab with training in drug development as a goal, and discovering new biological information that could be applied to the common good is something he feels quite passionate about.”

Sumit plans to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship after graduation, with the eventual goal of becoming the principal investigator of his own lab. In addition to the prestigious Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, Sumit is a member of the Pharmacological Sciences Training Program (PSTP).  PTSP at the University of Michigan is a unique collaboration between the Medical School and the College of Pharmacy that provides synergistic, translational education, research training, and career development with the ultimate goal of preparing our graduates to excel as leaders in the field of experimental therapeutics, both in the academic and private sectors.