Imesha Hettige

Imesha Lakmini Hettige is a PhD student within the Centre for Fragment-Based Design (CFBD) based at Monash University.

Research Overview
Imesha’s PhD project looks at developing new chemical tools to understand the biology of fatty acid-binding proteins.

The overall aim of this project is to develop inhibitors of fatty acid-binding protein 4 (FABP4), which plays a central role in many aspects of metabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis, as well as cancer. She plans to use the approach of fragment-based screening (FBS) to identify starting points for the development of inhibitors that bind to FABP4 and use the REFil method (Rapid Elaboration of Fragments into Lead compounds), where microscale parallel synthesis would be conducted along with the evaluation of a range of different biophysical approaches.

Education and Goals
Imesha completed her Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Chemistry at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura (USJ), Sri Lanka and she also completed a Graduateship in Chemistry at the Institute of Chemistry Ceylon (IChem), Sri Lanka, both with First Class Honours.

Her undergraduate research project at USJ was on ‘Synthesis of Platinum complexes with N, N- and N, N, N-sulphonamide ligands towards potent anti-cancer and fluorescence imaging applications’ and at IChem was on ‘Binding Interactions of Coumarin derivatives with T-Cell Originated Protein Kinase (TOPK)’.

“I had always grown up knowing that I wanted to, one day, be of help to people, and becoming a scientist appeared to be the most appealing way. The world of medicine and drug discovery truly fascinates me and to be able to synthesize an efficient, cost-effective drug that could benefit cancer patients would be a dream I would like to fulfil. In these trying times, I feel motivated to make my contribution to society and so, I want to pursue my PhD in Medicinal Chemistry where I would be able to synthesize compounds and investigate their possible drug-likeliness.”, Imesha says. This interest is what drives her to choose research areas that are based on synthetic chemistry and chemical biology.

“I was also keen to learn about cancer since my grandma and one of my aunts were both diagnosed with breast cancer and both of them fortunately healed.” Knowing that cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, Imesha was naturally interested in the field of anti-cancer drug development.

“I would love to go for post-doctoral studies after completing my PhD since I enjoy learning. I want to be an academic as I have always loved teaching, so I can’t wait to introduce the techniques that I will learn to future students as well and create a spark in them!”, Imesha states.

Imesha received several awards during her undergraduate studies. Below are a few recent highlights:

  • Prof M. U. S. Sultanbawa Award for Research in Chemistry, for the best research paper presented at the Annual Sessions of IChem, 2021
  • Silver Medallist of Inter-University Research Presentation Competition of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Sri Lanka Section, 2021
  • Prof Tuley de Silva Gold Medallist for obtaining the highest overall marks at the B.Sc. Chemistry Special Degree, USJ, 2020
  • Prof W S Fernando Gold Medallist for Physical and Inorganic Chemistry for obtaining the highest GPA for Physical Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry in the 3rd and 4th year of the B.Sc. Chemistry Special Degree, USJ, 2020