Meet Manoj Charati, an oncology researcher by day and a cricket enthusiast by night. He’s passionate about his family, his sport, and his work in the field of medicine. This year, Charati joined two of his colleagues in Aspen, CO, where they attended the Aspen Ideas Festival as Aspen Ideas Scholars representing Pfizer.
An engineer dives into the biosphere
Not all scientists think alike — and the combined minds of biologists, chemists, engineers, and many other types of scientist are what makes it possible to create a medicine. Charati is someone who is able to bring multiple ways of approaching a problem to work on solving unmet public health needs. Charati, who was born and raised in India, learned in boarding school that he had a mind for engineering. Today, he applies that thinking to answer biological questions in the lab — specifically in developing a novel way to deliver medicines to hard-to-reach tissues in cancer patients. “Since working at Pfizer, I’ve become fascinated with the way technological approaches can intersect with biology,” says Charati.
Putting together the pieces of a better medicine
Manoj’s research, in a process called bioconjugation, involves developing ways to attach a type of molecule called a targeting ligand onto the surface of miniature medicine messengers called nanoparticles. That conjugation process directs the nanoparticles toward receptors on the surface of tumor cells, where they bind to the surface and release the medicine. As Charati explains it, “a train or truck would carry a load of passengers. The nanoparticles carry the medicinal cargo with it and deliver it to the site of action.” The potential with nanoparticles, he says, is to increase the “therapeutic index” of a medicine — the sweet spot between the amount of medicine necessary to be effective and the amount that causes unnecessary toxicity — because the medicine is directed to the tumor, with the intent of minimizing the effect on the healthy cells around it.
Positive role models
Charati’s story underscores the importance of having positive role models in science. Growing up, Charati looked up to his older cousin because he was in awe of his brilliance and experience. “I wanted to model myself after my cousin,” says Charati. “He got his PhD and that’s when I said, ‘I want to be a scientist like him.’” Charati received his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Delaware before joining Pfizer. Now, Charati himself models the value of science for his two kids, aged 8 and 4. “My elder daughter is already interested in learning about antibodies and how the immune system works to fight against infections,” says Charati.
A Pioneering Cricketer in New Territory
In the early 2000s, Charati pioneered one of the first university cricket teams in the country. At that time, he says “cricket wasn’t as well-recognized or popular.” But he did it anyway, and his team won the inter-collegiate championship tournament twice. Now he plays in a semi-professional club in New Jersey, where cricketers are often recruited for the big leagues.
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