Director, Natural Products Center
Professor, BIO5 Institute
Professor, Arid Lands Resources Sciences - GIDP
Professor, Cancer Biology - GIDP
Dr. Gunitilaka’s research interests lie in the area of discovery, medicinal chemistry, and development of natural product (NP)-based anticancer agents from plants and microorganisms. In collaboration with members of the University of Arizona Cancer Center (UACC) and Nuvogen Research LLC he has discovered novel plant-based androgen receptor (AR) pathway inhibitors with nanomolar potency and impressive selectivity for prostate cancer cells and in vivo activity which can be further developed to treat prostate cancer. Subsequently, in collaboration with NCI he has shown that these withanolides have potent activity for sensitizing TRAIL (tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand) and TLR (toll-like receptor) mediated apoptosis in cancer cells without affecting normal cells.
Dr. Gunatilaka would like to continue his collaboration with UACC and NCI on withanolides and other NP-based anticancer leads from plants and microorganisms. Since establishing his lab at the University of Arizona, he has been continuously funded by NIH and other agencies to work on discovery and development of NP-based anticancer drugs and more recently to provide NPs from endosymbiotic fungi that are unique to the NIH molecular libraries small-molecule repository (MLSMR). he has skills in project management and has assembled an excellent team of microbiologists, horticulturists, medicinal and natural product chemists, and has a demonstrated track record of accomplished and productive research in areas of high relevance for NP-based drug discovery and development, and medicinal chemistry.