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News & Press: Aug 2011

Profile of Professor Dorairajan Balasubramanian

Saturday, August 27, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Raman Garimella
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Professor Dorairajan Balasubramanian, PhD (Columbia), born August 28, 1939, joined LVPEI’s Prof Brien Holden Eye Research Centre in June 1998 after an illustrious scientific career, which included positions such as Director, Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB), (until June 1998), Professor and Dean, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad 500046 (1977-1982) and Lecturer, Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur (1967-1977). He was honoured by the Government of India with the Padma Shri in 2002, and has received several other awards from professional and institutional bodies. Notable among them are the Kalinga Prize for the popularization of science from UNESCO, the Third World Academy of Sciences Award for Basic Medical Science, and the Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Merite from the President of France. Prof Balasubramanian’s research focuses on the biology of eye diseases. He has over 450 publications in national and international journals and has authored six books. 

He is a member of several editorial boards and serves on a range of national and international scientific committees. Currently, he is President of the Indian Academy of Sciences, and Secretary General of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), Trieste, Italy.Prof. Balasubramanian’s Academic Training: M. Sc. Chemistry, BITS, Pilani, 1959, Ph. D. Chemistry, Columbia University, New York, 1965, Postdoctoral Fellow: Univ. Minnesota Medical School, 1965-66Research Interests: Molecular and Cellular Approaches to Understand and Treat Diseases of the Eye. (Published over 170 research papers and 2 books)

His earlier work was in the areas of the biochemistry and photochemistry of cataract, oxidative etiology of cataract and attempts to delay its progression, and their role in keeping the eye lens transparent. He showed how photochemical (direct and sensitized) damage to these proteins compromise lenticular transparency and lead to cataract. The major finding of these studies is that continual oxidative stress imposed on the lens, causing covalent chemical changes in the constituent molecules of this slow-turn-over tissue, leading to cataract. 

During the last 12 years, Dr. Balasubramanian has joined a group of ophthalmic clinicians, and extended his research to genetics and cell biology of the eye, which has been of direct clinical application. His more recent research has extended to the molecular genetic analysis of inherited forms of blindness such as primary congenital glaucoma. Work by his group on over 400 families revealed as many as 15 mutations in the gene CYP1B1. Genotype-phenotype correlation has been done, as also the study of the structural changes that occur in the mutated protein, thus offering a clue to possible functional change. This has allowed (a) help to the clinician to intervene early and offer surgical care to save the sight of the infant, and (b) genetic counseling to the parents and the family. 

He has also been studying the functional properties of the glaucoma-associated protein optineurin and its mutants. His work shows the importance of optineurin in regulating the process of endocytic recycling, and how mutation affect this important homeostatic process, leading to arrested cell proliferation and development- leading to the pathogenesis of glaucoma.More recently, his group has vigorously pursued the field of adult stem cell biology as well. With the discovery of adult stem cells in the limbus, surrounding the cornea of the eye, they have isolated these stem cells, explants cultured them on human amniotic membrane to produce transparent, stitchable corneal epithelia. These have been successfully transplanted to over 700 needy patients who had lost their vision due to chemical or fire burns, and restored vision to these eyes in significant measure. Many of these patients have not needed any subsequent corneal grafts, while others have successfully accepted a subsequent donor corneal transplant, to regain 20/20 vision. This work is perhaps the largest successful human trial of adult stem cell therapy anywhere.

He is currently a Visiting Professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and Adjunct Professor, BITS Pilani, India. He has published 170 research papers. 

He chairs the Biotechnology Advisory Committee to the Government of the State of Andhra Pradesh, India. This committee produced the vision document enabling the government to invest in and frame its policy in the area of biotechnology, and makes technical evaluation of proposals made by biotech firms which want to start their activities in the State.

As the Director the Hyderabad - based research laboratory Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology during 1992-98, he incubated a vaccine company at the centre and helped it produce and manufacture its vaccine, and also enabled the government’s sericulture department laboratory in its quality improvement program.He is married to Shakti (ETV producer) with two daughters – Katyayani (research analyst) and Akhila (public health professional). 

(A note on the 'Speaking of Science' ColumnHe has been writing a newspaper column since the 1980s. Simple of language but deep in their meaning, the contents of this column have ranged from explanations to questions that children may ask to philosophical observations of the affects of Science on Society. 
Taking science into every home and to every thinking mind, Prof. Balasubramanian appears frequently on Television shows on science and education, including Doordarshan's Turning Point and on the Discovery channel. He has a long association with a grassroots people's science movement, Jana Vignana Vedika. And he has been writing a newspaper column since the 1980s. Simple of language but deep in their meaning, the contents of this column have ranged from explanations to questions that children may ask to philosophical observations on the affects of science on society.The column, 'Speaking of Science', first appeared in the Hyderabad daily, NewsTime, and later was moved to a leading National newspaper, The Hindu, where it continues to appear in the Science Section, about twice every month.)

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