Vaithish Velazhahan

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Vaithish obtained dual degrees with honors in Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology from Kansas State University. His undergraduate thesis work focused on elucidating the biochemical mechanisms of anti-cancer activity of flavonoids for which he was awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which is the most prestigious national undergraduate scholarship in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the USA. He graduated with the H.H. Haymaker Award for the most outstanding senior which is the highest honor bestowed by the Division of Biology. He was then awarded a prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship to study for a PhD at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the University of Cambridge. During his PhD, Vaithish developed novel methodologies that allowed determination of the first structures of fungal G protein-coupled receptors, which led to two sole first-authored manuscripts published in the journal Nature. He was awarded the Max Perutz Prize for outstanding PhD work performed at the MRC LMB and has received a prestigious Junior Research Fellowship at Gonville and Caius College to perform independent research.

Fungal diseases result in 1.5 million deaths annually while destroying 25% of world’s crops. As the majority of currently used fungicides are inefficient or resistant, it has long been suggested G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) in fungi could be targeted to develop powerful antifungals since GPCRs in humans are commonly targeted by nearly 35% of all FDA-approved drugs. However, lack of atomic structures of fungal GPCRs severely hampered drug development. I have developed various new methods that allowed determination of five near-atomic resolution structures of fungal GPCRs which are being used as the first templates for targeted development of next-generation antifungals.

I was the sole first author of this work that has resulted in two different first-author manuscripts in the journal Nature. Other co-authors performed some supporting computational simulations/experiments, but they were performed after and using the atomic structures of fungal GPCRs I had originally determined using electron cryomicroscopy.

Other 2022 award winners

Filip Boskovic

Teresa Brevini

Katrin Fischer

Ana Gatoo Jimenez de Laiglesia

Chengzi Guo

Nomisha Kurian

Rakoen Marieke Maertens

Katerina Naydenova

Clayton Roberts

Benjamin Tuck

Clara Wanjura

Previous award winners

Find out about the winners awarded in previous years: