Monday, November 30, 2009

Kaiga sabotage of trinium pollution: Hyderabad relatively safe from nuclear radiation, despite NFC

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 29: Hyderabad, which meets the uranium needs of all nuclear power plants in the country, is relatively safe from radiation hazards.
Though most of the city-based Nuclear Fuel Complex is not under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, it has developed its own safety mechanism over the years to prevent radiation hazards to its employees and people living in the vicinity.
There have been quite a few instances of mishaps in the NFC since it was set up in 1971, but there's no evidence about the leakage of radiation into the environment. NFC witnessed accidents in the past. The recent one was on November 17, 2002 at its uranium oxide plant. Environmentalists then warned that large dosage of radioactive material was released into Hyderabad air then.
The DAE was quick to obtain a safety certification for NFC to "clear all doubts" in the minds of people about radiation hazard from the plant.
Moreover, a nuclear fuel processing unit like NFC is not as hazardous in terms of radiation leakage as a nuclear power plant. NFC enriches uranium from ore before it supplies to nuclear fuel plants in India.
Currently only a part of NFC is under IAEA safeguards. Now that it has been receiving uranium supplies from other countries, the department of atomic energy is bound to open some more parts of the plant
under safeguards for processing and fabricating the nuclear fuel, according to official sources.
"The adverse effect of sudden exposure to radiation on health is solely decided by the duration of the exposure. If a person is exposed for a brief period, it can cause skin irritation or skin cancer in the worst scenario. However if they are exposed for a longer duration, it can even cause blood cancer, genetic mutations and birth defects in the offspring," warns senior consultant radiologist Dr B Murali.
NFC officials claim that those who had designed NFC took enough care to prevent damage to human health and environment through radiation exposure. To ensure that enough safety mechanism is always in place, the Baba Atomic Research Centre has set up a health physics unit at NFC. It carries out in plant radiation and industrial hygiene survey, besides monitoring the health of workers at regular intervals.
NFC workers posted in the controlled area are monitored through thermo luminescent dosimeters for external exposure. Other employees in NFC are also monitored for lung 'uranium' burden.
"Studies conducted by Institute of Genetics and Hospital for Genetic Diseases could not detect any adverse work environment at NFC," a senior official said.
The safeguards notwithstanding, a plant dealing with radioactive substances always stand as a threat to human and animal life as well as environment. There have been complaints from NFC employees that they are exposed to radiation.
Radiation effect is felt more on pregnant women, says Dr Murali adding "women pregnant for less than three months are the most vulnerable as the child growing in the womb will get affected by radiation exposure. Depending on the stage of its development, the foetal growth gets stunted. She is very likely to give birth to an abnormal baby".

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

National Epilepsy Day November 17: Myths, misconceptions, stigma still continue with epilepsy or seizures

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 15: Epilepsy shrouds in myths. No other disease is as enigmatic as epilepsy and despite so much advancement in science, people continue to hold their myths about this neurological disorder. The common myth is that it is a mental illness and affects one's intellectual functioning.
As India observes the national epilepsy day on Tuesday, health researchers and medical experts clarify that epilepsy is not a psychological condition and it is not contagious. It is a common problem with four to 10 out of every 1000 people suffering from it. There's no cure for epilepsy and yet it could be controlled effectively.
"Seizures are caused by a transient, excessive and abnormal discharge of nerve cells. It can be treated. Any person can develop epilepsy at any time and there's no age restriction," says senior neurologist Dr M
A disease surrounded by myths, people try to "lessen" the problem by putting an object, mainly made of iron, in the mouth of the patient. This many feel will prevent the patient from biting the tongue. Iron objects are also thrust into the hands of the person under seizure. This, doctors say, will only aggravate the problem, exposing the person to the risk of injury.
"The patient should be placed on his side so the tongue falls away and to the side. Do not try to restrain the person. Though there's no known cure for epilepsy, the problem can be fully or partially controlled through proper medication," he points out.
Though the brain is involved in epilepsy, it does not affect the intellect of an individual. It is not a mental illness. Historical records show that several world leaders including Alexander the Great, Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, dynamite discoverer Alfred Nobel, eminent physicist Sir Isaac Newton and ancient mathematical genius Pythagorus experienced seizures.
According to neurologist and medical author Dr S Jain, one in every 10 people may experience a seizure in their lifetime. However, the seizure may not necessarily be due to epilepsy. "There are several myths that
surround the disorder. The problem could be tackled quite easily if we create awareness among people. This is because epilepsy has become common all over the world," he points out.
Even as the disease is surrounded by misconceptions, a team of scientists at Cardiff University discovered that studying the way a person's brain ''sings" could shed light on epilepsy and schizophrenia. Further studies on this aspect will help scientists understand the reason behind neurological problems like epilepsy and find a possible cure.
According to them, a person's brain produces a unique electrical oscillation at a particular frequency when he or she looks at a visual pattern. The frequency of this oscillation appears to be determined by the concentration of the neurotransmitter called GABA or gamma-aminobutyric-acid.
The more GABA is present, the higher the frequency or "note" of the oscillation. GABA is a key inhibitory neurotransmitter and is essential for the normal operation of the brain.

National Epilepsy Day November 17: What triggers epilepsy, do's and don'ts in case of seizure

Do's & Don'ts

1. Follow doctor's prescription. Do not change the medicine or alter the dose
2. Do not change regular food habits or regular sleep time
3. Do not get excited
4. Do not take alcohol and avoid smoking
5. Avoid swimming or driving without a companion.
6. In case of a seizure, turn the patient to the side and loosen any tight clothing
7. Do not restrain convulsive movements
8. Allow free breathing without crowding.

What triggers epilepsy?
Epilepsy is triggered by several factors.

In case of children the factors include fever, birth or brain defects, infections like meningitis and head injuries.

In the case of adults the causative factors may be reaction by drugs, excessive consumption of alcohol, head injuries, brain tumours and lack of sleep.

National Epilepsy Day November 17: Common symptoms of Epilepsy, seizures or fits

Common symptoms

1. Attack of "fits" may be brief or long. There many be simple muscle jerks or severe and prolonged contractions of the muscles.
2. There may be temporary loss of awareness and disturbances of movement.
3. The person may appear to cry out or make some sound, stiffen for a few seconds, followed by rhythmic movements of hands and legs.
4. The person under seizure may not appear to be breathing.
5. In some cases, the patients appear to be confused after the attack ends.
6. The person may pass urine or stools.

Mild malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax may turn potent, cause health complications of Plasmodium falciparum

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 13: The generally mild malarial parasite, Plasmodium vivax, has turned potent with about a dozen complicated cases reported in recent times. The parasite has been found to attack lungs and cause severe respiratory complications.
Malaria is caused mainly by four species of Plamodium. Of these, Plasmodium falciparum has been known for its dangerous health complications including damage to brain and death. The type of malaria caused by common Plasmodium species, vivax, is generally mild and does not cause death.
But of late, cases of potent malaria caused by Plasmodium vivax have been reported from different malaria endemic regions of the country, raising concerns among medical experts and health planners. One such P. vivax complicated case has been reported in a corporate hospital in the city.
"Acute renal failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome, hypoglycemia, coma, or epileptic seizures are manifestations of severe Plasmodium falciparum malaria. On the other hand, Plasmodium vivax malaria seldom results in pulmonary damage, and pulmonary complications are exceedingly rare," says critical care specialist Dr Manimala S Rao.
Dr Manimala and her team treated one such patient. The 42-year-old man had developed acute respiratory distress syndrome. He had been diagnosed as having Plasmodium vivax malaria.
Though P. vivax has symptoms common to other types of malaria, it does not generally exhibit more severe complications like acute renal failure, ARDS and epileptic seizures. The patient was admitted with fever, chills, dry cough, headache, and body pain. He developed respiratory problem and was shifted to intensive care unit.
The team of doctors attending on the patient concluded that malaria caused by Plasmodium vivax can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - India regains supremacy in the world of medicine

By Syed Akbar
The Indian tradition of medical excellence pre-dates the advent of writing. Dhanwantari, Sushruta and Charaka gave the knowledge of Ayurveda to the world. Ancient Indian medical theses include those on
internal medicine, ophthalmology, otorhinolaryngology, surgery, toxicology, psychiatry, paediatrics and the science of rejuvenation and fertility.
In ancient India, two main schools emerged - Atreya - of physicians and Dhanwantari - of surgeons. The earliest international scholars of medicine came to Indian Ayurvedic schools: Chinese, Greeks, Romans,
Egyptians, Afghanis Ayurvedic texts were translated into Arabic.
Paracelsus, the father of modern Western medicine, practised a system of medicine in 16th century Europe, which borrowed heavily from Ayurveda.
Such was the development and the trust of people in the efficacy of Indian system of medicine that a doctor is considered a divine incarnate. - Viadyo Narayano Hari.
It is an Indian legacy that flourishes till today with medicine men of Indian origin leading the field in innovation, public health and teaching.

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 1: Dr Chittaranjan S Ranawat, knee surgeon

By Syed Akbar
Remember the orthopaedic surgeon, who had come down all the way from the USA in 2000 to operate upon then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee? Meet Dr Chittaranjan S Ranawat, the world renowned orthopaedic surgeon, researcher, developer and inventor. He holds half a dozen patents for his technological inventions that had made knee replacement surgeries quite an easy task for surgeons everywhere.
Dr Ranawat hails from Sarwania in Madhya Pradesh. Last year he developed rotating platform flexion, which has been hailed as a major technological advancement in knee replacement surgeries. The product, made
from superior plastics, is ideal for non-obese people. It does not wear out easily and ensures implant stability.
"I am dedicated to research and development of new methods to diagnose and treat arthritis from all causes. My goal has been to improve existing total joint technology and the knowledge of the disease process," points out Dr Ranawat.

A clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Dr Ranawat also doubles up as the director of Ranawat Orthopaedic Center at Lenox Hill Hospital. His focus areas have
been total hip and knee replacement and primary and revision total joint surgery.
He established Ranawat Foundation in 1986 to carry on his research activity. He has punished 92 research works on hip, 89 works on knee and more than 90 research publications on other topics including hand, wrist, shoulder and cervical spine.
Explaining how his research has been helping patients relieve themselves of the knee pain, he says "one of our most recent projects involves pain reduction after joint replacement surgery using a series of intra-operative
injections into the soft tissue with selected medications to control post-operative pain."
Dr Ranawat also focuses on the use of MRI scans as a non-invasive tool to detect wear-induced implant failure. At present patients are exposed to the risk of radiation using X-rays and CT scans to detect the failure. "By studying the implants themselves, we hope to design the best possible hip and knee implant for maximum mobility, function and durability," he adds.

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 2: Dr Manjit S Bains, mesothelioma expert

By Syed Akbar
Millions of people all over the world suffer from a form of cancer called mesothelioma, and many of them look towards Dr Manjit S Bains as their Messiah. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and Dr Manjit Bains is a world authority from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, on this form of cancer.
A thoracic surgeon par excellence, Dr Manjit Bains is also famous for his clinical expertise in thoracic surgical oncology, lung cancer, oesophageal cancer, mediastinal tumours, pulmonary metastases, video-assisted thoracic surgery, pulmonary and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, including laser endoscopy, and tracheobronchial and oesophageal stents.

"I am a medical graduate from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi," he says with a bit of pride. After he settled down in the USA, he took up studies, surgeries and research on mesothelioma. Today he is credited with dozens of mesothelioma resources around the world. He has authored several books on cancer and successfully dealt with severely complicated kinds of thoracic cancers, earning accolades from leading research institutions and patients alike.
Dr Manjit Bains, who has completed four decades in the profession, has been included in the panel of about two dozen professional societies around the world. He has to his credit 150 research publications and books on cancers.
He has mastered the art of lung cancers, some of which requires removal of the entire lung along with partial removal of other organs. "We have been studying the resection and reconstruction of the chest wall," in cases of mesothelioma.
The pioneering research work carried out by him revealed that the use of a rigid prosthesis is possibly better but should only be done to patients who have gone through a rigorous selection process. He is also credited with research on the survival rate of cancer patients who are treated with pleurectomy (removal of outermost layer around the lung) rather than extrapleural pneumonectomy (removal of portions of lungs and outermost lung layer).

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 3: Dr V Shanta, cancer specialist, Adyar Cancer Institute

By Syed Akbar
Magsaysay awardee Dr V Shanta is hope personified for millions of cancer patients in the country. In the last five decades, this untiring crusader against cancer rekindled hope, joy and the will to live in patients.
As chairperson of the famous Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai, Dr Shanta is credited for her pioneering research in oncology, and prevention and cure of cancer.
She is also a leader in popularising early cancer detection programme and has set up India's first hereditary cancer clinic. She also opened tobacco cessation clinic, after her research studies revealed that cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, and lungs are quite high among men and those of the breast and cervix among women. One in five women in the world who suffer from cervical cancer is an Indian.

Noticing her specialisation in cancer, the World Health Organisation nominated her to its advisory committee. Inspired by her maternal uncle Dr Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar and her grandfather’s brother Sir CV Raman, both Nobel laureates, Dr Shanta too up cancer research. A profound believer in "Supreme Power", she attributes her success and service to the "grace of God" and "faith in her mission".
Dr Shanta is known for her groundbreaking research on oral, cervical, and breast cancer and paediatric leukaemia. At 78, Dr Shanta is quite active and treats cancer patients, performing surgeries and carrying on the research. "There is much more to do," she says, even as she attends to her patients.

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 4: Dr Mani Lal Bhaumik, excimer laser surgery

By Syed Akbar
If you are suffering from short- or long-sightedness and yet do not want to wear glasses or contact lenses, your eye doctor will suggest that you undergo excimer laser surgery. It is an innovative technology that eliminates the need for wearing external eye aids to correct vision defects.
Excimer laser is used the world over and millions of people have benefited from it. They no longer wear glasses or contact lenses. And the credit goes to our own Indian Dr Mani Lal Bhaumik, researcher,
physicist, philanthropist and author.

His excimer invention won him 15 patents and made him a billionaire. He is one of the few Indians listed in the Who’s Who in America and in the Who’s who in the World, as also in the American Men and Women in
He believes that the recipe of success lies in the indomitable will to do something. Dr Mani Lal discovered the world's first efficient excimer laser, which takes less than a minute to correct vision defects like short or
long sight. Reaching the summit of glory was not an easy task for this young Bengali, who had to walk six km barefoot to the nearest school.
Inventor Mani Lal has an author in him too. His book, "The Cosmic Detective" is the best-seller in its class. He believes that science and spirituality are just two faces of the same coin. "This coin is the unique human consciousness that allows us to perceive both ourselves and objective reality," he argues.
His latest book, Code Name God, also a best-seller, emphasizes that the chasm between science and spirituality can be bridged.

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 5: Dr Naresh Kumar Trehan, cardiologist

By Syed Akbar
A pioneer in the field of coronary artery bypass surgery, Dr Naresh Kumar Trehan has performed about 50,000 open heart surgeries. Today he is regarded as the king of open heart surgeries, including end stages
cases, in India. His reputation extends beyond national boundaries to the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
Soft spoken and simple-looking Dr Naresh Trehan held important academic and clinical positions in the New York University Medical Centre, Bellevue Hospital, New York, and Veterans Administration Hospital, Manhattan, USA.

He is famous world-wide for perfecting the art of minimally invasive robotically controlled cardiac surgery. Dr Naresh Trehan has operated upon thousands of VVIPs and business tycoons. To him also goes the credit of performing more than 10,000 beating heart surgeries, which even expert doctors in the USA and the UK, think twice before doing it.
Hailing from Punjab, Dr Naresh Trehan feels that Punjabis are perhaps the best suited for cardiac operations. "We Punjabis have the power to withstand the trauma of heart surgery. It is a risky proposition," he says. Incidentally, Punjab is one of the three States in the country with high risk of heart ailments.
While many Indian doctors prefer to stay abroad for professional reasons, Dr Naresh Trehan returned to India in 1988, despite a successful career in United States. He started Escorts Heart Institute  and Research Centre, which in a short span of time became an important landmark the world over in cardiac surgery and cardiology.
Dr Naresh Trehan shows keen interest in research and education. He has to his credit a number of research works presented at international medical meets in about a dozen countries.

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 6: Dr KM Cherian, cardiologist and transplant surgeon

By Syed Akbar
Dr KM Cherian is the first and only Indian doctor, whose name is engraved in one of the stones in Kos Island, Greece, the birth place of Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. Dr Cherian’s life is a saga dedicated to the world of cardiology and he has several firsts to his credit.
"My entry into the profession is purely providential," he says and his achievements have been "ordained". Like all those who are at the summit, he does not think he is on the top of the field "except that I had the opportunity to perform several first cardiac surgeries and transplants in the country".

Always busy with his patients and surgeries, Dr Cherian wishes he had free time for other activities. This affable doctor from Chennai has to his credit the first successful coronary artery graft, mitral valve replacement for endomyocardial fibrosis, introduction of profound hypothermia and circulatory arrest for correction of cardiac defects in infants, and first internal mammary artery graft, in India.
Dr Cherian, who studied medicine in India, Australia, New Zealand and the US, also introduced cardioplegia for myocardial preservation in India and undertook transatrial repair of tetralogy of fallot, transatrial and repair of double outlet right ventricle. He also performed the first heart transplant, first bilateral lung transplant, first pediatric heart transplant, first auto transplant and first heart and lung transplant, in India after the Central government introduced legislation on brain death cases.
He disagrees that all Indians do brilliantly. "Unless those Indians, who have achieved are motivated, hard working and committed". Brilliance is not a birth right or a national asset as Einstein once said "Brilliance is 99 per cent perspiration and 1 per cent inspiration".

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 7: Dr Pradip Kumar Datta, FRCS teacher of doctors

By Syed Akbar
If thousands of doctors the world over have taken their first step on the career ladder of medicine, it’s thanks to Dr Pradip Kumar Datta. He is famous for his world renowned course in medicine which he launched in 1981. In recognition of his services to medical teaching, he has been awarded the Farquharson Award by the Royal College of Surgeons.
He conducts postgraduate surgical courses in the UK and India. And when he gets some spare time he goes salmon and trout fishing. Dr Pradip Datta was appointed as Consultant Surgeon, the top position that one can reach in National Health Service, UK.
Hailing from Visakhapatnam, he left India in 1967 to discover that it was difficult for Indian doctors to pass the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons. He then decided to set up training for FRCS course and gained an international reputation for supporting students to develop the confidence they needed to impress examiners at the FRCS.
A humble Dr Pradip Datta, however, does not accept the fact that he has attained the highest pinnacle in the medical teaching profession. "I would never dream of ever saying or even thinking that I am the
best doctor in the field. That would be very arrogant, not to mention conceited".
Dr Pradip Datta, a general surgeon by profession, served as the honorary secretary of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Dr Datta does not benefit financially from his teaching as he gives donations and fees to charities. "I chose general surgery as my speciality as it gave me an opportunity to see patients with very
different conditions and to treat and operate on a wide range of surgical cases".
This doctor-teacher from Andhra Medical College in Visakhapatnam feels that Indians are doing so well because they are in general very hardworking and motivated. "This is not only in the field of medicine
but also in other spheres. This is true abroad as it is in India as well".

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 8: Prof K Srinath Reddy, cardiologist and public health expert

By Syed Akbar
A clinical cardiologist and epidemiologist by training, Prof K Srinath Reddy is internationally renowned for his unstinting services to public health and rare career commitment to preventive cardiology.
Prof Srinath Reddy has several outstanding feats to his credit as a cardiologist and public health expert, but argues that unlike in competitive sports, one cannot ever claim to be on the top, in the field of medicine. Nevertheless, he agrees that "my work has won national and international recognition in the past 16 years".
Inspired by Dr Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor who served in China, he decided to contribute lifelong, as a health professional, "to improve the lives of people and help to create a healthier India".
Prof Srinath Reddy graduated from Osmania Medical College, Hyderabad and later trained at AIIMS, Delhi. Before he took up the present task of presidentship of the Public Health Foundation of India, he headed
the cardiology department at AIIMS.
He has been involved in several major international and national research studies including the INTERSALT global study of blood pressure and electrolytes, on epidemiology of coronary heart disease and community control of rheumatic heart disease and on risk factors of myocardial infarction.
"A good doctor needs competence, commitment and conscientiousness in professional work while combining care, courtesy and compassion in dealing with patients and their families. I have tried to imbibe and apply these attributes in my work," says simple-looking Prof Srinath Reddy.
Always busy with his profession, he reads books, listen to music and watch old English and Hindi films whenever he gets "free" time. He has served on many WHO expert panels. He has also served as chair of the
scientific council on epidemiology of the World Heart Federation. He has more than 210 scientific publications. He was conferred Padma Bhushan. The Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, UK, conferred on him the award of the Queen Elizabeth Medal.
"Indians are quick learners usually," he says adding "but not always, apply themselves diligently to the completion of any task they take up". They also have the capacity for lateral thinking, which helps them to become effective problem solvers.

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 9: Dr D Nageshwar Reddy, gastroenterologist

By Syed Akbar
When one thinks of gastroenterology, the first name that pops to mind is Dr D Nageshwar Reddy. From being just one of the many professors of gastroenterology two decades ago, Dr Nageshwar Reddy carved out a niche, through research, utmost patient care and dedication, in this area of medicine.
Today he is the best Indian doctor in gastroenterology and the most sought-after worldwide. When he gets free time, he reads books on philosophy, science and evolution.
"The centre of my universe is the patient," he says and it’s this single principle that has earned him name and fame, both at national and international level. "Only when we constantly think of ways to improve care of our patients and work hard at it, can we reach the top of any branch of medicine," he adds.
Being at the top in this select field, Dr Nageshwar Reddy feels that humility and compassion are two other characteristics that doctors require to excel in medicine. "Team work is very important," he points out.
Stating that it took about 15 years to reach the top in the field, Dr Nageshwar Reddy says he selected gastroenterology as the incidence of gastrointestinal diseases is very high in India.
He graduated from Kurnool Medical College in 1978 and obtained a PG degree in medicine from Madras Medical College in 1982 and specialisation in gastroenterology in 1984 from Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh.
A busy doctor he is, Dr Nageshwar Reddy and his team see over 200 outpatients and 250 inpatients. He is credited with a breakthrough in endoscopic treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, gallstones and pancreatitis.
He bagged a number of national and international awards which include Dr BC Roy Award for development of specialities, Padmasri, and the Master Endoscopist Award, the highest award in endoscopy, equivalent
to Nobel Prize in endoscopy.
He feels that Indians are doing so brilliantly because Indians are innately intelligent and willing to work hard, much harder than an average westerner.

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 10: Dr Rangaswamy Srinivasan, Lasik co-inventor

By Syed Akbar
Dr Rangaswamy Srinivasan co-invented the process of LASIK surgery, a laser process that allows the removal of soft tissue from anywhere in the human body with a precision that was unknown before. He developed a technique called "Ablative Photo Decomposition " in 1981, not in a hospital, but at the IBM Research Centre.
He is a research physician who works on inventing techniques to improve not only surgical methods but also processes used in the making of computer chips. This inventor loves reading books on history, particularly
Indian history, and listens to music.

"When the potential of APD in surgery was announced by IBM in 1983, surgeons came to my lab to see what I could do to help their speciality. One of the first was an ophthalmic surgeon from Columbia University. Together we developed the surgical procedure which is today known as LASIK."
Dr Srinivasan, who obtained his early education in Chennai, is the first person of Indian origin to be inducted into the inventors hall of fame in Akron, USA for discovery of Lasik and yet he says, "it will be just a boast to
say I am the best doctor in this field".
"Indians are doing brilliantly everywhere in the world whenever and wherever they get the opportunity. The tragedy is that these people (including me) have to emigrate in order to find that opportunity. After my Ph. D., I did return to India and I did find a job at one of the leading government research centres.
But the pace of the work there and the red-tape not to mention the hierarchical arrangements were so discouraging that I left after just eight months in order to seek my opportunities abroad".

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 11: Dr Santosh G Honavar, retinoblastoma specialist

By Syed Akbar
Retinoblastoma is a major eye cancer, which leads to blindness. Managing the problem requires a lot of expertise, patience and dedication. Dr Santosh GHonavar is a rare blend of a clinician and a scientist. The comprehensive multispecialty children’s eye cancer centre, which he established, is now recognised as one of the best in the world. He has contributed more than 125 research papers to various national and international magazines.
His outstanding work on retinoblastoma notwithstanding, Dr Honavar does not feel that he is on the top of the field. "The moment one assumes this, he has lost it!," he says, adding "like a duck in water, one has to
paddle hard to even stay at the same place in the field of medicine".

Dr Honavar loves music but says he has chosen ophthalmic plastic surgery and ocular oncology, because it provides all the excitement of being a surgeon, and also the sense of fulfilment of being able to restore the
patient’s appearance as in ophthalmic plastic surgery; and salvage life, eye and vision as in ocular oncology.
Simple looking Dr Honavar has made a mark of his own in the fields of tumours of the ocular surface, orbit, retinoblastoma, and paediatric lachrymal disorders. The worth of Dr Honavar’s scientific work can be gauged by his cumulative citation index of 617, H Index of 16 and G Index of 22. He is a recipient of Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award.
He feels that Indians, specifically those who have received their initial medical education in India are doing well in medical specialities probably because of their extensive training background and exposure to a vast range of pathology. "We Indians fancy gadgets and techniques and tend to do very well in performing surgical procedures that the others have invented, may be even much better than the inventor, because of the vast volume that we have to hone our skills with."

Indian doctors: Hall of fame - Part 12: Prof Jatin P Shah, head and neck surgery expert

By Syed Akbar
Head and neck surgery is a highly specialised art of medicine. Given the most important and sensitive organs they contain, many doctors shudder at the very thought of specialising in it. But Professor Jatin P Shah feels quite at ease as he scalpels through the head and neck of his patients with 100 per cent success.
Today he is arguably the best Indian doctor and authority in the field of head and neck surgery in the West. But Prof Jatin Shah is full of humility when he refuses to accept it. "One should never consider as being on "top of the field" since it implies that further growth has stopped. I believe one should continue to strive to be at the top of the field throughout one’s active life" he points out.
That Prof Jatin Shah takes head and neck surgery with a passion is evident when he confides, "it is not work for me but it is simply joy and pleasure and it is my means of recreation and relaxation. Thus, it is my life and soul."

Prof Jatin Shah graduated from the medical college of MS University in Vadodara, and received his training in surgical oncology and head and neck surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He is a national and international leader in the field of head and neck surgery. Ask him why he has chosen oncology (cancer), he says "I had also a personal reason for getting attracted to this field since I lost my father to lung cancer".
He founded The International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies, in 1986. He received many international awards including honorary fellowships from The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh,
London and Australia. But he likes to share credit with his vast team, which includes expert cancer surgeons, specialist-scientists and paramedical staff.
Explaining why Indians excel outside, Prof Jatin Shah observes, "when we move to the more affluent western world, which offers an environment conducive to productivity, and creates a milieu for one to be creative and
productive, we seize the opportunity and excel". The combination of excellent education, outstanding work ethics and sheer hard work has led numerous Indians to perform brilliantly.
Prof Jatin Shah is a much sought-after speaker with visiting professorships in 32 countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and China. In recognition of his outstanding contributions, and world leadership in head and neck surgery, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has established "Jatin Shah Chair in Head and Neck Surgery and Oncology".
And what the Professor does when he is free? "Head and neck surgery is my pride and passion. Thus, it occupies my mind and my body."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Toxicity of GM Foods: Is Bt brinjal safe for human consumption?

By Syed Akbar
Four thousand years after it entered the Indian kitchen, all time favourite brinjal may soon shed its traditional flavour. With the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee giving its nod for the genetically modified or Bt brinjal for human consumption, doubts are being expressed about the very survival of the native brinjal varieties.
India is the home to about 2500 varieties of brinjal, all native to the land. Unlike tomato and potato, which
entered the Indian soil in the last 100 years, brinjal has been under cultivation for about four millennia. When the Bt brinjal enters the mass cultivation phase in India, it will become the first GM food crop approved for human consumption.
"The mouth-watering bagara baigan or baigan ka bharta may not be the same again. Once the genetically modified or Bt brinjal is introduced, the centuries old Indian cuisine may undergo a change. GM crops, though give better yields, will rob off taste. There are other environmental concerns too," cautions senior geneticist Dr MM Khaja.Though the USA and other Western countries have approved GM foods like Bt soya and Bt maize, they are primarily meant for animal feed. Those who are against GM crops argue that since GM crops are a new phenomenon, the long time side effects on human health are yet to be understood.
"Tinkering with Nature does have catastrophic effects not only on environment but also on the health of man and animals. The injection of Bt gene from a soil bacteria into food stuff may lead to mutations in human body, may be at a later date. The GEAC should have conducted safety studies for at least a decade before declaring Bt brinjal safe for human use," points out Ch Venkatasubbaiah, who runs an environmental group against GM foods.
Thanks to its ubiquitous use in the Indian kitchen, brinjal has the distinction of being the second highest
consumed vegetable in the country, after potato. The crop is grown over 5.50 lakh hectares providing
livelihood to a little over 15 lakh farmers and about 50 lakh vegetable vendors. Indians consume about one
crore tonnes of brinjal, 25 per cent of the world's total consumption. At stake is about Rs 10,000 crore
worth of native brinjal production and priceless biodiversity.
Those in favour of Bt technology argue that GM brinjal will become a boon for the average Indian farmer,
since it will improve the overall production, quality and taste of the vegetable by preventing it from its
common pest. There's no need of spraying of pesticide and this will enhance the quality of the product,
besides improving its taste.
Infants are always considered as a high-risk group and the effects of such novel food items like Bt brinjal needs to be checked for their effects on infants. No such study was done in the case of Bt brinjal. The Royal Society of London has in the past expressed concern in this regard - Greenpeace.
The private seed company that is coming out with Bt brinjal has selected some mammals and birds for poison studies and claims that no toxicity was found in the lab animals. It is yet to be used on humans and only time will tell whether it will prove toxic on human beings.
Internationally renowned biotechnologist Prof DR Krishna calls for proper checks on GM crops. "If proper
checks and balances are not evolved to regulate the developments in the bio-technology sector, it will lead
to more problems and complications resulting in the loss of our rich bio-diversity and threatening the public
Another concern about GM crops is the Bt toxin from bacteria, which some scientists argue, is about a
thousand times more potent when injected into food stuff. Greenpeace, which has been spearheading world-
wide campaign against genetic modification of food items, expresses concern that if Bt brinjal was allowed,
other food crops like lady's finger and cabbage will be genetically tinkered. Studies on these crops are
already in progress. There's a talk of even GM rice.

Toxicity of GM foods - Part two: Arguments for and against Bt brinjal

By Syed Akbar

There has been a lot of debate on the safety aspects of genetically modified crops. Those in favour of GM crops say they help farmers by reducing the costs on pesticides, while increasing the yields to feed the
ever-growing population. But those who oppose GM crops, express doubts over their environmental safety and fitness for human or animal consumption.

In India the only GM crop that has been in mass cultivation for at least five years is Bt cotton. But cotton is a commercial and not a food crop. In the USA and other countries Bt maize and Bt Soya are in cultivation
and most of the produce goes for animal feed.
Bt brinjal will be the first GM food crop to be permitted for human consumption.
Arguments against Bt brinjal

1. Those who eat Bt brinjal will develop resistance to antibiotics like neomycin and streptomycin.
2. The bacterial gene inserted in Bt brinjal releases crystal proteins, which are dangerous for human consumption.
3. Since Bt brinjal is a new product, it is now clear how it will react with human body over a long period of time.
4. Bt brinjal will upset the natural biodiversity, posing a major threat to ecological balance.

Arguments in favour of Bt brinjal
1. Bt brinjal will do away with the need for pesticide spraying.
2. It will increase productivity, thus helping farmers monetarily.
3. Bt brinjal is safe for human consumption.

Toxicity of GM foods - Part three: What is Bt brinjal?

By Syed Akbar

What is a Bt or genetically modified brinjal? India has thousands of varieties of brinjal. All of them are native to sub-continent. But they are prone to pests, so much so that by the time farmers harvest the crop, half of the produce or even more is lost to insects and worms. What farmers get is hardly half or one-third of the total produce.

To reduce the losses to insects or worms, farmers keep on spraying pesticides, spending huge amounts.
So a local private seed company with international links has genetically modified one of the varieties of brinjal to make it pest-resistant.

To achieve this, it has inserted a toxic gene from a soil-thriving bacteria called Bacillus thuringenesis, or Bt for short. This gene makes the brinjal plant poisonous for its common pest. In other words, farmers need not spray pesticides. Studies have shown that the Bt toxin gains in potency about a thousand times when used in GM crops.

Sounds good. But farmers stand to benefit for a short time. The Bt seeds are not cultivable, unlike those of traditional brinjal varieties. Every season, farmers will have to look to the seed company for supplies. In other words, farmers will be at the mercy of the seed firms.