UMass Amherst Chemist Describes ‘Smart’ Targeting of Drug Therapy in Season’s First Distinguished Faculty Lecture

S. “Thai” Thayumanavan

AMHERST, Mass. – Chemistry professor S. “Thai” Thayumanavan will launch the 2014-15 Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Tuesday, Dec. 2 with a talk on “Smart Therapy: The Search for Better Targeted Delivery Systems” in disease treatment.

His talk, which inaugurates the 40th anniversary year of the lecture series, begins at 4 p.m. in the Goodell Building’s Bernie Dallas Room. Following his talk, Thayumanavan will receive the Chancellor’s Medal, the highest recognition given for service to the campus.

According to chemistry department head Craig T. Martin, Thayumanavan has been instrumental in pioneering a “refreshingly new strategy” in the development of “polymeric nanogels” designed specifically to target delivery of a drug to given molecule.

“The Thayumanavan group has evidence that these nanogels selectively accumulate in tumors, which can be utilized to kill cancer cells selectively,” wrote Martin in nominating Thayumanavan. “This would represent a huge advantage over present-day chemotherapies, with their non­selective and generally horrendous side effects on cancer sufferers.”

“Thayumanavan is an unquestionable leader in this area of research in the world and again several groups in the world are now attempting to follow suit,” added Martin.

Martin said that Thayumanavan has used his research stature to bring even broader recognition to UMass Amherst, having co-founded the Massachusetts Center for Renewable Energy Science and Technology (MassCREST), where he organized scientists working on solar cells and fuel cells; and as an active leader in the Center for Bioactive Delivery as part of the Mass Life Science initiatives – resulting in $95 million in outside investment.

“It might seem a bit unreal that someone can have a significant impact on so many aspects of research on campus,” said Martin.

Thayumanavan completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry at The American College in Madurai, India, and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Illinois. He joined the UMass Amherst faculty in 2003. He has published more than 150 peer-reviewed publications in his career, many of which have appeared in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Thayumanavan has won several major awards in recognition of his fundamental contributions to chemistry. On the national level, he has been awarded the Cottrell Scholar Award by the Research Corporation, CAREER Award by the National Science Foundation, and the Burlew Award by the American Chemical Society (ACS). He has been elected as a fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Sciences. At UMass Amherst, he has been awarded the Samuel F. Conti University Faculty Fellowship and the Award for Outstanding Research and Creativity. Thayumanavan also serves on several international advisory boards, including the national awards committee for the ACS.

Upcoming lectures in the 2014-15 Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series at UMass Amherst include Max Page of the department of architecture on Feb. 11, speaking on “The Art of Memory: Bending the Future of Historic Preservation”; Gerald Epstein of the department of economics on March 24, speaking on “When Big is Too Big: Do the Financial System’s Social Benefits Justify It’s Size”; and Margaret Riley of the department of biology on April 13, speaking on “Rethinking the Antibiotic Arsenal: New Strategies for the Age of the Microbiome.”