A Nobel Laureate educates and enthralls his audience at Sankara Nethralaya

Dr. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

It was a much awaited day for the employees of Sankara Nethralaya, the students of its educational institutions, supporters and well wishers, a Great Global Living Indian legend and Nobel Laureate had consented to the request of another Great Global Living legend and Visionary to share his thoughts and learning, at their premises on the forenoon of 26th of December 2013, the expectancy was palpable in the air and the Sri VD.Swami Auditorium was packed to capacity. Dr. Srujana Chittipothu, Senior Scientist and Lab In-charge of the Central Instrumentation Facility, the presenter of the day’s programme extended a warm welcome to Nobel Laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, describing him as a pioneering molecular scientist and veteran microbiologist. Isai Arasi Srimathi Asha Ramesh, Founder and Artistic Director of the Ragamalika School of Music, California, a long time friend and supporter of Sankara Nethralaya’s cause, brought a touch of the margazhi season to the event with a supremely melodious and sublime invocation song.

Dr. Ananth Badrinath, Researcher and Head of the Department, Lens biology gave an apt prelude to the day’s lecture with his simple equations involving order-disorder, form and function, he underlined that Dr. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan’s pursuit of his scientific goal and critical discoveries in the protein structure and function of the ribosome  was a clear demonstration of the need for every researcher to identify the right scientific problem, stay with it and pursue it with drive, determination, zeal and on-pointedness.

The star speaker of the day started his address with a positive observation that he was most impressed with the wide spread and in-depth research being carried out at the Kamalnayan Bajaj Institute for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and its clinical impact, adding that such complementary research between a Research center and a clinical institution was rare even in the advanced West. The Nobel Laureate underlined the theme of his talk with a poignant note that the world had lost some of its most illustrious and noble sons from Kafka to Mozart and Ramanujam at a young age to infectious diseases and raised the question if the situation was vastly different today?  He reinforced his observation with the dismal statistic that 25,000 patients die of Methicilin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) even in an advanced region like Europe and MRSA caused deaths in underdeveloped parts of the world could be even higher. He wondered aloud if modern science and medicine have been able to effectively deal with the challenges of infection caused ailments and infection in post operative recuperation. Dr.Ramakrishnan traced the first major assault on infections to the Second World War period when Penicillin was used as an effective antibiotic on a mass scale on wounded soldiers, he observed that infections have over the years developed resistance to specific antibiotics making it imperative to develop newer inhibitors and how in bad cases patients develop multi drug resistance making treatment very difficult, adding that the recent discovery of the Ribosome and its structure is leading to a better understanding of antibiotic function. He shared his deep concern that drug companies or other bodies were not willing to come forward to develop life saving third generation antibiotics in a market governed economy but chose to invest in more lucrative areas instead.

Dr. Ramkrishnan shared his alarm on the causal manner in which anti-biotics are dispensed as over the counter drugs (OTC) in India, the dangerous practice of the patient, his friends or family deciding the antibiotic to be administered, the ill-effects of residual bacteria and infection caused by the abrupt stopping of the drug course by the patient. He recommended a judicious mixture of surveillance, vaccines, intake of pro-bodies like yoghurt and rational usage of antibiotics as the solution to infections and infectious diseases adding that proper sanitation and hygiene could do much more in the prevention of infections than any antibiotic.

The in-depth and highly educating guest lecture came to an end with a warm Vote of Thanks by Dr. Umashankar, Head of the Department &Reader, Bioinformatics Department.

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