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Using Alchemy to Manipulate Molecules,
CRCHD Grantee Bimal Banik, Ph.D. Hopes to Discover New Drugs to Treat Cancer

Bimal Banik, Ph.D., C.Chem., F.R.S.C. Bimal K. Banik, Ph.D., C.Chem., F.R.S.C.

President's Endowed Professor
Professor, Department of Chemistry, Science Building Room 3.352

The University of Texas-Pan American
1201 W. University Drive
Edinburg, TX 78539

phone: 956-380-8741
fax: 956-384-5006
email: banik@utpa.edu

At the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) in Edinburg, Texas, Dr. Bimal K. Banik begins his mornings synthesizing new anti-cancer compounds from the most unlikely sources: his primary ingredients are ring-shaped molecules called chrysenes—more commonly found in the fumes of pollutants like coal and tar—and beta-lactam antibiotics, a class which includes penicillin and amoxicillin. While neither substance has chemotherapeutic properties alone, Dr. Banik has found that their combination proves deadly to cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Synthesizing polycyclic aromatic compounds and testing them as anticancer agents was one of the first pilot projects that Banik undertook as the principal investigator of a CRCHD P20 Grant. Banik's P20 supports research and training partnerships between institutions along the U.S.-Mexican border—Banik leads the UTPA portion of the P20 partnership while Lead Principal Investigator Dr. Susan L. Naylor and Co-Investigator Dr. Amelie Ramirez (CRCHD Grantee) are responsible for the other portion, based out of the Cancer Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCAA). The UTPA-UTHSCAA partnership focuses, in particular, on addressing cancer-related health disparities in the Hispanic population.

Dr. Banik's own scientific pursuits began with encouragement from his parents.

According to Dr. Banik, "My parents inspired me to pursue science, and I began to read a lot of science books. I became highly curious in the identification of the mystery of science and that many of the greatest discoveries were made because of serendipity… this haunted me that research does not always proceed as planned."

Indeed, serendipity seems to have played a role in Banik's own success. A strong student, Dr. Banik's scientific curiosity gradually grew throughout his primary and secondary careers but was only cemented, when, as a young man, the Governor of West Bengal awarded Banik a Gold Medal for his high marks on a national science exam. This honor inspired Banik to continue on and earn his Bachelor's of Science degree with honors in chemistry, physics and mathematics from Bejoy Narayan College in West Bengal, India. He then went on to earn his Master's of Science degree in Organic Chemistry in 1981 from Burdwan University in West Bengal, and his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Jadavpur University, Calcutta, India in 1987.

Following his degree studies, Dr. Banik worked at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio, the Steven's Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, and at the M.D. Anderson Comprehensive Cancer Center in Houston, before becoming a tenured associate professor at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg in 2006, where he was named a "President's Endowed Professor of the School of Science and Engineering" in 2007.

In addition to his academic and research achievements, Dr. Banik has been recognized as a successful teacher and mentor. According to Dr. Naylor, one of the lead PI's on Banik's P20 grant, "Dr. Banik's research is not only a potential source of cancer treatment but also has been a rich environment for training students." Others agree with Dr. Naylor: in 2009, Dr. Banik was among the winners of the University of Texas System Regents' Outstanding Teaching Awards, which honors "exemplary commitment to positively affecting the lives of undergraduate students through teaching excellence and instruction innovation."

As Dr. Banik said, "The extreme satisfaction and remarkable joy in teaching and mentoring has prompted me to continue in my profession to produce outstanding students and direct them in world-class science."

Even more than inspiring his professional goals, Banik finds that teaching allows him to share some of the curiosity that initially sparked his interest in science.

As a teacher, he says, "I have the opportunity and privilege to engage students in the wonder of science in the classroom and the research laboratory, to excite students about their career paths, and to develop the next generation of researchers and educators. By providing support activities such as advising, mentoring, academic, research enrichment and scientific development training, I hope to contribute to increasing the number of students entering in higher education."

His current interests are to develop collaborative research and student training partnerships between the University of Texas Pan American and the Cancer Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio in order to increase and improve cancer research. These projects are directed to develop basic, translational, clinical, and educational research on cancer related health disparities. He also hopes—following toxicity testing—to take some of his polycyclic compounds to clinical trials, generating useful and effective therapies and treatments for cancer sufferers from all populations.

These achievements have led the office of UTPA President Dr. Robert Nelsen to praise Professor Banik, noting his outstanding record of publications in organic and biomedical science, his extraordinary grant funding history, and his noteworthy service to national and international societies. In light of his "very promising discoveries of novel anticancer therapeutic agents" the office of the president concluded that "We at the University are very grateful to him for his contributions to our students and to society."

However, the greatest testimonial to Dr. Banik's success may be his gift for inspiring trainees and encouraging them to pursue, like himself, innovative research prospects aimed at reducing cancer health disparities.

Updated: 07/08/11