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International collaborations

Dr. Mohsen Daneshtalab

By Jennifer Deon

Dr. Mohsen Daneshtalab, a professor of medicinal chemistry and the associate director of graduate studies and research at the School of Pharmacy, recently spent several weeks as a guest professor at the Osaka Prefecture University in Osaka, Japan.

During his visit in May, Dr. Daneshtalab presented several well-received lectures on drug design and discovery to undergraduate and graduate students in the university’s School of Science, in addition to research presentations with faculty and research meetings with graduate students working under Professor Masahiro Toyota, a long-time research colleague.

Dr. Daneshtalab’s visit was only his most recent of many academic encounters throughout his career with this country, which is geographically just about the furthest away from Memorial as one could go.

Dr. Daneshtalab was born and raised in Iran, where he received his pharmacy doctorate from the University of Tehran. In 1972, he was selected by the Ministry of Education of Japan for a bursary to pursue his graduate studies in pharmaceutical sciences at the Tohoku University, where he obtained his doctor of philosophy degree in medicinal chemistry in 1976.

During his time spent working at the Faculty of Pharmacy at Tehran University from 1976-85, Dr. Daneshtalab continued his research collaboration with not only his alma mater university, but with other colleagues in several other universities in Japan.

As a result of his research achievements during his time at Tehran University, Dr. Daneshtalab was selected by the Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS) to visit Tohoku University as a JSPS Scholar. During this period, he was invited by Osaka University and Nagasaki University to present research lectures at those institutions, as well.

This opportunity expanded Dr. Daneshtalab’s acquaintance with other Japanese colleagues and, as a result, frequent invitations by Japanese universities for presenting research lectures and establishing scientific collaboration.

Dr. Daneshtalab spent a year of his sabbatical leave in 1985-86 at the Tohoku University during which he received a research grant from Mitsubishi Kassei to work on novel anti-hypertensive drugs. This research resulted in discovery of novel dihydropyridine calcium channel blockers to decrease high blood pressure, the relevant patent of which was granted by the Japanese Patenting Agency in 1986.

In September 1986, Dr. Daneshtalab came to Canada and joined the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Alberta (U of A). In 1987, he was also recruited by SynPhar Laboratories, a satellite research company of the Japanese Taiho Pharmaceutical.

For the next decade, Dr. Daneshtalab continued his academic activities at the University of Alberta while at the same time being actively involved in pharmaceutical research at SynPhar.

“When I was in Edmonton, that was a good learning process,” says Dr. Daneshtalab. “My philosophy on drug design is different from others – most university professors are not familiar with what is the requirement in industry, but I gained that knowledge during that experience and am able to mix both academic and industrial experience together. Being a professor and being in industry at the same time was tough, but I believe I gained.”

Dr. Daneshtalab was also instrumental in establishing a scientific exchange program between the Faculty of Pharmacy (U of A) and several Japanese universities (such as Hokkaido University, Chiba University, Meiji Pharmaceutical University, Toho University, Shizuoka University, and Health Sciences University of Hokkaido). This exchange program is still continued by the U of A.

In September 2000, Dr. Daneshtalab came to Memorial University’s School of Pharmacy to initiate a graduate program in medicinal chemistry. His research since joining Memorial pertains to the discovery and development of new drugs and medications.

“My work targets two type of diseases: cancer and infectious diseases (bacterial, fungal, viral),” said Dr. Daneshtalab. “Although, nowadays, my focus is mostly on cancer.”

Dr. Daneshtalab currently has several graduate students and post-doctoral fellows working on the development of novel anti-cancer agents which are not toxic to the body.

“Traditional cancer treatment involves drugs that kill the cancer, but also harm other cells in the body,” he says. “The major emphasis of my work is finding some that are still effective in fighting cancer cells, but leave other cells unharmed.”

When asked how he felt about his most recent Japanese experience, Dr. Daneshtalab says: “This is the best type of scientific exchange, one that over one month becomes a win-win situation for both sides.”

“In every step of your life you learn new things, even now,” Dr. Daneshtalab concluded. “To me, teaching is a good way to learn. That’s why I always volunteer to teach. When you learn more, you are really more productive.”