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Pankaj Desai, PhD

Pankaj Desai, PhD
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Publish Date: 08/25/11
Media Contact: Angela Koenig, 513-558-4625
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Focus on Science With Pankaj Desai, PhD

Focus On highlights faculty, staff, students and researchers at the UC Academic Health Center. To suggest someone to be featured, please email

How long have you been at UC?
"Exactly 15 years; drove into town on Labor Day Weekend in 1996." 

What is the focus of your research?
"My broad expertise is in the area of pharmacokinetics, which deals with understanding how various physiological processes of absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion impact a drug. It is really a translational research field dealing with correlating data from pre-clinical to clinical studies and eventually to the clinical use of a drug. As such, our background allows us to provide comprehensive input in various stages of drug development and in the optimization of the clinically used dosing regimen.

"The current focus of my laboratory is on the regulation of drug-metabolizing enzymes and its relevance to clinical pharmacology of anti-cancer and anti-retroviral drugs. Using a wide array of in vitro tools such as primary liver cells, sub-cellular fractions and cell lines, we assess mechanisms that underlie drug-drug interactions and account for the often observed inter-patient variability in the pharmacokinetics and safety and efficacy of drugs. We often collaborate with clinical scientists to conduct "bench to bedside," or for that matter, "bedside to bench" research.  A good example of the former approach is a recently completed clinical study funded by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation where we assessed the potential upregulation of cytochrome P450, CYP3A4 gene in breast cancer on routine tamoxifen dose. An illustration of the latter case is the mechanistic undertaking in our laboratory that implicated the role of liver enzymes and transporters in pharmacokinetic interactions of anti-HIV compounds."

What got you interested in this topic originally?
"Ever since I learned about production of antibiotics as a high school student, I wanted to pursue a career as a pharmaceutical scientist. Additional exposure and strong encouragement and support from my parents motivated me to seek advanced educational opportunities and eventually to pursue an academic career. After completing my BS and MS degrees from India, I joined the doctoral program at the University of South Carolina. While I was initially interested mainly in pharmaceutical technology/drug delivery sciences, my doctoral advisor, Professor Raj Sridhar, played a significant role in introducing me to the complexities of disease such as cancer and challenged me to a career dedicated to supporting development of drugs for this and other unconquered diseases."

Science is a slow, methodical process. What keeps you motivated?
"Our PharmD and PhD students. To make a positive difference while teaching the professional program (class size of 100) and to individually mentor graduate students is most rewarding.  

"While in research, one always keeps hoping for a major breakthrough; however, it may turn out to be a lifelong pursuit. It is important to stay optimistic and keep plugging away. Additionally, it helps to have a balance between research and teaching/mentoring. I am equally passionate about both these aspects of an academic life.  

"I have been fortunate to have a large number of MS/PhD students conduct their thesis/dissertation research in my laboratory. At this point, a number of my students are recognized scientific leaders in most of the major pharmaceutical/biotech companies in the U.S. and the FDA. Furthermore, as the founding director of the masterís of science program with a specialization in drug development, it is gratifying that 50 students have graduated from this new graduate program, which was established in 2004."

Any exciting new research projects on the horizon?
"In the next few months we are initiating a couple of new, early clinical pharmacology studies. These include application of novel pharmacogenomic and microdosing to aid development of chemotherapeutic drugs. Novel projects to aid the development of anti-infective molecules, including macromolecules such as anti-bodies, are also being planned." 

You have been recognized frequently for your work. Tell us about your professional recognitions.
"A few years ago, I received the prestigious Presidentís Excellence Award at UC, which was an important recognition of my contributions in research and teaching and spearheading the development of the MS with specialization in drug development. In terms of other honors worth mentioning, I have served as a member of the Experimental Therapeutics section of the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program and as a member of the National Cancer Institute Technical Evaluation Panel to review proposal pertaining to the development of novel anti-cancer and radioprotective agents."   
When you are not in the lab, what are your hobbies?
As an undergraduate student in India I played cricket, a British invention cherished across the Commonwealth nations. I still enjoy keeping up with it over the Internet. But now, I most enjoy rooting for my daughters in their tennis matches. My wife and I also thoroughly enjoy traveling internationally while appreciating all the wonderful arts and entertainment events that Cincinnati offers. The highlight of this summer was the Paul McCartney concert at Great American Ball Parkóa surprise gift from my wife." 

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