Dr. Uday Tak, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Aaron Whiteley’s lab in the Biochemistry Department,
is the newest recipient of the 2021 Cancer Research Institute: Irvington Postdoctoral Fellowship. This award was
established to provide support and training for young scientists performing cutting-edge research with
applications in cancer immunotherapy and tumor immunology. Founded in 1953, the Cancer Research
Institute was established with the goal of eradicating cancer and has played a key role in many ground-
breaking discoveries and advances in the field of cancer immunology. Previous awardees of this
fellowship include CU Biochemistry's Dr. Alexandra Whiteley.
Prior to joining CU Boulder, Dr. Tak performed his doctoral research at the University of
Alabama Birmingham (UAB) in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Niederweis. There he characterized the
enzymology and secretion mechanism of the tuberculosis necrotizing toxin (TNT), which allows
Mycobacterium tuberculosis to kill macrophages. Dr. Tak's work revealed a novel mechanism of toxin
secretion relying on the formation of membranes pores by Esx/WXG100 proteins, whose biological
functions were a mystery for almost 20 years. This work was a major advancement in the field of
bacterial protein secretion and has implications for the functions of Esx proteins which are important for
the virulence of mycobacteria and gram-positive pathogens. His publication of these findings was highlighted as an
editor’s choice in Nature Communications Focus on “Microbiology and Infectious Disease”.
Fueled by a passion to continue studying enzymes involved in physiology and disease, Dr. Tak
joined the laboratory of Dr. Aaron Whiteley at CU Boulder. The Whiteley lab focuses on the evolution
and function of the cGAS-STING pathway which is crucial for antiviral and anticancer immunity. Dr. Tak is
specifically interested in the primordial functions of the prokaryotic homologues which may generate
new hypotheses on the function of their eukaryotic counterparts. These findings have the potential to
generate new biological tools and concepts to guide STING-directed immunotherapies. As a CRI
Irvington Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Tak plans to use biochemistry, structural biology, and protein
engineering to accomplish these goals.