FACE TO FACE
Year : 2021 | Volume
: 11 | Issue : 2 | Page : 128--131
Face-to-Face: Virtual interview with Dr. Nirmal Kumar Ganguly
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. Face-to-Face: Virtual interview with Dr. Nirmal Kumar Ganguly.Trop Parasitol 2021;11:128-131
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. Face-to-Face: Virtual interview with Dr. Nirmal Kumar Ganguly. Trop Parasitol [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Oct 6 ];11:128-131
Available from: https://www.tropicalparasitology.org/text.asp?2021/11/2/128/328698
As an eminent expert member in various prestigious organizations, please share your views and research experience in parasitology
When I started my career, the term “Biotechnology” was not even coined. In 1965, I belonged to the first batch of the MD microbiologists from PGI, Chandigarh. And gradually as I moved, in my career, I adopted immunology as my subject and got training in Japan, UK, and Germany. And while I was working on immunology, the subject biotechnology appeared as modern biology, and gradually Department of Biotechnology was established. So at that time, I had become the Professor of Experimental Medicine in PGI, Chandigarh. It was a multidisciplinary department, where the clinical departments, the basic Science Department, Pathology, Physiology, Microbiology, Parapsychology, Biotechnology, Nutrition, Gastroenterology, Cardiovascular, all were in one place. We also had the central instrumentation cell and central animal facility with us. So at that time, it came to my mind that why don't we start this area in modern biology. It will cut across the disciplines and will help everyone. As I started, we made a program by asking everyone to work in the area so that we can establish our credentials. I also started working in the area. And gradually, after a few years, we then made an application to start the Department of Microbiology and Biotechnology and started an M.Sc. course and a postdoctoral course. These were started with the help of the fellowship from the Department of Biotechnology. A year before Dr. Indira Das at the All India Institute also established this department. Incidentally, she was also an immunologist. So from that point onward, this particular department made a lot of great strides. And from the precursor, many other departments have originated in PGI, like a Department of Regenerative Medicine, Stem Cell Biology, etc., So science doesn't stop at one place, it evolves. And I have seen in my career, I also evolved and moved to new areas. And these days, there are no silos in science, because it is very interdisciplinary. My proper education helped me because I was an honors graduate in chemistry. And that helped me move into the interdisciplinary sciences. At that time, Lucknow University had just started the Biochemistry Department. So in the Department of Chemistry, Dr. Krishnan had started that a small laboratory. These backgrounds helped me when I moved to the Department of Experimental Medicine, which was a multidisciplinary department. We had students from chemistry, but a lot of major disciplines emerged here. In that way, modern biology includes a lot of disciplines. The parent biotechnology courses, missed some of the things because they do not learn Mathematics, Chemistry, Biochemistry, etc., They straight away moved into a subject where you need to learn Physics, Chemistry, and the basic building blocks of biology to go into Biotechnology. In my department, the courses had all those building blocks, and we also taught health sciences because biotechnology courses are related to health and though I left the department many, many years back, but it's still running very strongly.
What measures do you suggest to improve the quality of parasitology in developing countries?
You know, Parasitology was a subject that essentially developed in one institute in India, that was Institute of Tropical Medicine in Calcutta. It has some great parasitologists, and Dr. A.B. Chaudhary was one of them. I was not trained in Parasitology in the beginning. When I joined the Department of Microbiology in PGI Chandigarh I moved to four different departments there since I had broad exposure to various subjects. One of the departments which I moved to was Parasitology. This was the first Department of Parasitology in any Medical Institute. Dr. Mahajan had established this department. We were very close colleagues and published together a lot of papers.
We together started building it up. Dr. Mahajan was doing pure Parasitology and I was doing the systemic biology and parasitic immunology. We were helped by Dr. A.B. Chaudhary, who was at that time the director of the Tropical School of Medicine. So we established a very vibrant department where the oldest specialty could be set up. We had a group working on Entamoeba histolytica and a group working on Giardia lamblia, a group on leishmaniasis and malaria. In helminthiasis, we had filariasis as the major area of study. So the subject parasitology developed in many institutes and departments afterward and the emphasis on malaria and leishmaniasis came back very strongly. All of these brought back Parasitology into the mainstream. A huge number of other departments including JIPMER - Pondicherry had a vibrant Department of Parasitology. Dr.Chand Wattal in Kashmir had started the Parasitology Department there. So I was happy that the subject founded strong foot in India. But mainly it was powered by the emphasis and the funding which malaria research obtained.
Sir, can shed some light on the involvement of the world health organization in developing countries to control the parasite diseases over the past few decades?
World Health Organization itself had one particular arena which was looking at tropical diseases (TDR), this was known as the TDR. I was a member of the Central Committee of TDR as well as was on the joint board of the TDR. TDR covered several neglected diseases periodically. It has Schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis, it also had malaria because it was also not very nicely funded. It had filariasis and had onchocerciasis, etc., So in its portfolio, it also had leprosy later on the dengue and other things were added. Essentially, the TDR started funding PhDs for small research, and later on, it established the malaria vaccine initiative and medicine for malaria ventures. Later on, pregnancy and malaria formed another major area. Then WHO wanted to contribute to the control of malaria, and so it started a program known as “Roll Back malaria.” It was a very major program and India was also a participant in that. Roll Back Malaria Program was funded by the global fund. Global funds funded two things: They funded malaria and funded HIV AIDS. So these particular things helped the area of neglected TDR in many developing and developed countries. Later on, their emphasis turned to Africa. But the Asian continent had special features and these were not found in Africa and some of the things which were found in Africa were not found in the Asian subcontinent. The presentation was also very, very different. So in India, the Southeast Asian Region Organization (SEARO) has a unique donor-NCHR that was moving research within SEARO. I chaired that for nearly 10 years and move some of the major agendas, particularly the diseases which were right for elimination. In my time, the Yaws as well as Smallpox got eliminated. And we saw polio getting eliminated from India. WHO then had also started 1 more unit which was known as neglected TDR, under which many neglected TDR in India got high priority. WHO used to help them in capacity building and funded small research and helped to create a lot of technical reports and thinking. These technical reports and thinking connected the different countries.
In my time there were no drugs for leishmaniasis. Stibogluconate, N-methyl glucamine: etc., caused a lot of side effects and drug resistance. So, we repurposed miltefosine, which was made by a German company for treating breast cancer. World-class trials were carried in collaboration with TDR in India and this drug was then listed for the elimination of leishmaniasis. This agreement was done with Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. Now, two more signatories have joined, Thailand and Bhutan. WHO also started one more elimination program known as the activated elimination of filariasis. So, in this now Ivermectin has been added along with albendazole and diethylcarbamazine (DEC). I chaired this technical group from India. I had also chaired the technical group of filariasis of the Indian Council of Medical Research. Most of the drugs in filariasis are donated. In leishmaniasis also the liposomal Amphotericin B was donated by Gilead. Albendazole is donated by GlaxoSmithKline, ivermectin is donated by Mark, and DEC is donated by Japan. So, these donations powered this particular thing and a few of the states in India where filariasis is getting eliminated. So, the WHO had a lot of roles to play in many of these, in bringing people and connecting people. Many of the people were brought in from London school or Liverpool School to India to provide sustenance. I was involved in the leishmaniasis vaccine development. One was with the Hira L. Nakhasi from US Food and Drug Administration, this particular vaccine is being made by Genova in India and another one was Steve Reed's IDRI vaccine, which also had undergone its Phase I over here. But the third one is Paul Kay's vaccine, which is now undergoing trials in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda. I one of the assessors for that vaccine and there is an attempt to bring that vaccine to India. So WHO and global partners have been moving the technical part of this. I was a part of the soil-transmitted helminths elimination program. This was a very major program taken up by the health ministry. It moved very well and it was quite successful in bringing down the soil-transmitted helminths in a very large part of India where the prevalence was high. The technical support for which was provided by WHO.
Sir, please share your views on research progress in developing countries with respect to the neglected tropical diseases
Neglected TDR always got very poor funding, but some of these elimination programs which have been put in place have brought back some funding. Some major funders for the neglected tropical disease are Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So, the neglected TDR got a breathing space, because there was a WHO resolution where several of the diseases were brought into elimination including schistosomiasis which was eliminated from a very large part of the world. Schistosomiasis was not a part of India and the sleeping sickness which also doesn't happen in India was provided priority. When dengue was added to the list, it found really major breathing space, and subsequently, the flaviviruses - Japanese encephalitis, dengue, Zika all of them they come under the same banner. When the 13 cases of yellow fever were reported in China, the whole flavivirus scenario got a very big boost. Major vaccine programs and new drug programs were started. So, in the dengue, the new drug and new vaccine from Sun Pharma, undergoing trial and of course, a vaccine from Sanofi, Takeda and NIH vaccine, all of them got into the various trial modes in India and other countries. Some got into the problem but many of others are showing a lot of promise. So, essentially, the research is always good if it gets boosted by a little bit of a push. In malaria, there was a group that was set up and I was also on that Board which was known as WWARN, i.e., the Worldwide Resistance Network for Malaria Infections. Nick Wright was the chair of that group.
Sir, you have been a part of various National and International Scientific Committees, what is your opinion on the research approach in developing countries when compared to developed nations?
In developing countries now, the research situation has improved a lot because all these funding agencies have major funding provided by the Department of Biotechnology, Science Technology, ICMR. Then there is the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research for smaller funding. There are other opportunities like the Bio-rad etc., where you could have industry participation. UGC also is providing a lot of funding because of the Center of Excellence and NAAC grading. But the problem is that we need to put research on a priority so that the youngsters who are deserting the science stream, come back to science. It should be made attractive to them, science should be made interesting, and science should be made into a system, where people see that investing their career into this will be rewarding. So, there are some programs which have been started by the Department of Science and Technology and others to practically help youngsters and woman scientists and others. This particular model is very, very interesting and we need to explore that and put the science and research into the minds of young school students and create opportunities for them. There are now several major programs like quiz programs or development of capacity, etc., providing platform technologies to the students that also should be made affordable to the students. The teachers need to measure up and we need to have the best teachers who are not just promoted without doing any work. If they are made responsible, and they are promoted according to the researching output, the research in India will get a much better filling. And here, we could look at China, they bring back the scientists from any part of the world and provide them world-class opportunities as well as salary.
Would you like to give any messages to the young researchers?
To young researchers, I will give one major piece of advice that they need to learn how to do research. They need to know the research methodology and medical statistics very well. They also need to learn at this time, bioinformatics and its basic principles. These are some of the basic ways they need to learn if they want to come to research. Secondly, now people are very lucky that they can go to the net and get a lot of journals and books. So you should be abreast with what's happening now in the various parts of the world. Go to some of the major sites of the conferences, which happened, and their abstracts. Sometimes you can also register online for a small fee. Try to get the latest knowledge which is happening now around the world. Perform research and translate it. If you don't translate it, it sits on the shelf unused. Essentially, one needs to be linked with the community and the need of the community for the research. If you are working on the priorities of the nation and priorities of the world then your research will get funded. You also need to see an outlet for your research and find out different opportunities with the industry and with startups. They look at the young researchers. Don't depend on your guide completely. I was taught by my students and whatever I learned, I learned from them because they are much more enthusiastic, energetic and they have a working mind. The young researchers should be chalking their destiny not depending on another person, as another person may only open a gate, but essentially it is they who have to prosper and move. So, this is my message to them. You need to have few other qualities. If you want to succeed, apart from your degree, you should be socially relevant, you should not crack in crisis. You should be resourceful so that you could work from almost nothing, and it will move towards your goal. Always learn to work with your peers or your colleagues and try to change the environment in your favor. There are many times you don't get an environment which is of full liking. But be a nice person. If you are a nice person and a helpful person, people will like you and they will always help. So these are some of the qualities which the youngsters and young researchers need to learn. If they learn this they have no problem.