Unknown great scientists of India

Unknown great scientists of India
Mansukh Wani, Ph.D
Indian Scientist who discovered two of our best anticancer drugs
*Awtar Krishan Ganju
nowledge about herbal plants and their use for curing of disease is an important part of our Indian heritage. Several American scientist of Indian origin made their name in discovery of important medicinal products. One of the pioneers was Dr. M. Nandkarni who worked at the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda in the developmental therapeutics program. He was a pioneer natural product pharmacologist who worked on important alkaloids from the plant Podophyllum sp. Although this plant grows in South Eastern USA, the plants which grow in Kashmir valley (Wan Wangun) have the highest medicinal value. Sandoz drug company made several derivatives from this plant and sold its rights to Bristol Labs which introduced analogs of podophyllotoxin (VP-16, etoposide) for the treatment of lung cancer.

In a previous issue of Shehjar, we had reported the contributions of Dr. Subbarao from Lederle labs, who led to the discovery of important anticancer drug Methotrexate and anthracycline Aureomycin. In the present issue we highlight the contributions of an eminent Indian natural product chemist, De. Mansukh Wani who discovered the important anticancer drugs Taxol and Comptothecin.

Dr. Wani was born in Gujrat , India and earned his MS degrees from University of Bombay and a Ph.D. from the Indiana University. He worked till his retirement a few years back at the Research Triangle Institute, in Research Triangle Park, NC where in collaboration with Dr. Monroe Wall, he researched the structure, synthesis and activity of important anticancer drug, Taxol from the bark of the Yew tree ( insert) Taxol is one of our best anticancer drugs for the treatment of tumors of ovary and other organs. Several new analogs of the parent compound taxol have been made and are now in clinical use. In 1977 Drs. Wani and Wall discovered Camptothecin from the Chinese tree Camptotheca acuminata. This compound is now used for the treatment of several human solid tumors. Dr. Wani is a hardworking and humble Indian karma yogi who brings pride and honor to all of us.

Taxus Historical Plaque

Near this location on August 21, 1962, Arthur Barclay and a team of botanists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture collected bark of the Pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia Nutt. Drs. Monroe Wall and Mansukh Wani, of the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, under contract to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, isolated taxol from that sample. Since 1990 taxol has been the drug of choice for treatment of ovarian cancer, and is widely used in the treatment of breast cancer. Presented in 2002 by the USDA Forest Service, National Cancer Institute and The American Society of Pharmacognosy on the 40th anniversary of the collection.

*Dr. Awtar Krishan is a brilliant scientist himself. He obtained his PhD's from Panjab University (1962) and the Univ. of Western Ontario, Canada (1963) in Cytogenetics and Anatomy. From 1965 to 1977, he was at the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School as Head of the Tissue Ultrastructure and Experimental Pathology Labs.

He has developed flow cytometric techniques for rapid analysis of DNA content by hypotonic propidium iodide, monitoring of drug retention and resistance, and more recently for monitoring hormone receptor expression in archival tumors. He is currently Director, Analytical Cytometry Laboratory , at University of Miami, Florida.

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