HIV Treatment Drug Researcher Receives Medical Sciences Degree Summa Cum Laude
Indian-born, Mr Soumendranath Bhakat, travelled to South Africa to graduate at UKZN with a Master of Medical Sciences degree summa cum laude.
Bhakat received his degree for compelling research which impressed adjudicators at the 2014 College of Health Sciences Research Symposium. The work titled: “An Integrated Molecular Dynamics, Principal Component Analysis and Residue Interaction Network Approach”, reveals the impact of M184V mutation on HIV reverse transcriptase resistance to lamivudine.
The study reported the first account of the molecular impact of M184V mutation on HIV reverse transcriptase resistance to lamivudine – the drug prescribed for the treatment of HIV infection and hepatitis B infection – using a combination of molecular dynamics simulation, binding free energy analysis, principle component analysis and residue interaction networks.
Bhakat felt the rapid emergence of different drug resistant strains of HIV-1 reverse transcriptase in relation to viral pathogenesis as well as drug development was a global priority.
Results from his study confirm that M184V mutation leads to steric conflict between lamivudine and the beta-branched side chain of valine (amino acid); decreases the ligand lamivudine binding affinity when compared to the wild type; changes the overall conformational landscape of the protein and distorts the native enzyme residue-residue interaction network.
‘The study sheds light on the molecular mechanism of M184V resistance on lamivudine and related changes in conformational landscape of drug binding as well as overall protein conformation. This insight will act as a cornerstone to design novel nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitors against drug-resistant strains,’ said Bhakat.
The study was published last year in one of the top journals of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Molecular Biosystems.
‘It feels great to complete the Masters as it is one of the career goals that will pay off in the long run. I am very fortunate to receive assistance through a scholarship and infrastructure facilities provided by UKZN.’
Bhakat was able to publish 12 peer-reviewed papers in different journals of international repute with a cumulative impact factor of 26. ‘This research-based masters proved to be a great learning experience which I will cherish for a long time,’ he said.
‘I believe if you are focused, dedicated and humble you will face few obstacles in any part of the world. Further the guidance from all staff members and especially the postgraduate officers and support staff helped me to sort out minor challenges.’
Bhakat, who also has a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree from Birla Institute of Technology in Mesra, India, is now a PhD candidate in the Molecular Modelling and Drug Design Research Laboratory headed by Professor Mahmoud Soliman, the new Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Health Sciences.
He said the fact that research led to new discoveries which affect a large portion of humanity in a positive way made him passionate about his work.
Determined to produce further research that will be published widely in leading international journals, Bhakat said he would continue his work on biophysics, computational biology and drug discovery in order to develop novel drug candidates as well as understanding molecular basis of protein folding and dynamics.