Dr. Mani Shankar Babu
Every year approximately 9-10,000 Americans die of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer that’s increasing in the U.S. and worldwide.
Curing this aggressive cancer takes collaboration from the world’s best minds and scientists. Dr. Mani Shankar Babu came to IU and the IUPUI campus to do just that. Based on cancer metabolism work at the Naidu laboratory at IU, Dr. Babu received the prestigious Raman Postdoctoral Fellowship from the University Grants Commission (Government of India), out of a pool of 10,000 candidates, to conduct world-class research in cancer metabolism.
Securing a year-long fellowship, Dr. Babu selected to work with the IU School of Medicine’s Dr. Sami Naidu for training in metabolic pathways in melanoma. Dr. Naidu is an Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. His path to studying metabolism in melanoma cells includes time spent as a Rockefeller Fellow at Washington State University and time spent studying fruit flies in Austin, TX. When a family friend died of leukemia, it attracted him to cancer research and as he says, “This made me decide that cancer was something that I wanted to chase. That I could do something about it. “
Currently they are focusing on the unique metabolic properties of melanoma cells. It is an anomaly in that the tumor cells are able to make energy without damaging the cells. Tumor cells seem to never die and in fact they seem to “deceive death.” It appears that cancer cells consume nutrients that normal cells don’t use in order to overcome competition. Naidu and Babu have been exploring the source of those nutrients and energy. That exploration has lead them to examine glucose and acetate-assimilating enzymes of mitochondria—the powerhouse of the cell.
They are developing a number of grant proposals related to these topics. It is important to note that their findings are also of relevance to obesity, diabetes, and the immune system. As Dr. Naidu summarizes their work, “[in studying biology] you get addicted to the truth. And we know what we’re doing today is going to impact the life of future generations. It impacts and stimulates life.”