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Walk the Talk

(Prof. Daman Saluja shares her experiences as a scientist with Naveen Bamel. Naveen Bamel is a 1st year law student from University of Delhi. He has done his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Hindu College.)

About Prof Daman Saluja

Prof. Daman Saluja, is currently a Professor at Medical Biotechnology Laboratory, Dr B R Ambedkar Center for Biomedical Research, University of Delhi, North Campus. She got her Doctoral degree in 1986 from University of Delhi, Delhi. Prof. Daman Saluja worked as a Research Scientist in various capacity (1987-1990) at University of Delhi. She then joined New York University Medical Center, U.S.A. where she worked as Assistant Research Scientist at Department of Biochemistry (1990-1993). Later she joined Department of Microbiology (NYU medical Center) and worked as Assistant Research Scientist from 1993-1997. DrSaluja joined Dr B R Ambedkar Center for Biomedical Research, University of Delhi as Reader in 1997 and later became Professor in 2007.

Q. Tell me something about your research ?

Ans. Ourlab focuses mainly onhealth related issues. We want to develop cost effective and easy to use diagnostic system using the latest technique of biotech like PCR so that even the poorest among the poor can avail the latest diagnostic techniques.

We havealready developed itfor three sexually transmitted infections and also for two types of chronic leukemia. We are also working on automation of Mycobacterium tuberculosisdiagnostic assay in collaboration with a Canadian company. Theyjust provide the platform but it was developed and patented by us at ACBR. We are also doing some basic research to understand the role of various proteins which are dis-regulated in cancer cells.

Q. Recently the govt. of India put price cap on knee cap and stents.How do you seeit becausesome researchers are alleging that this will shift the R&D industry outside India since they will not be able to get their due price?

Ans. This is very good step in ensuring that the poor people can afford these essential items. Generally what we see is that due to high prices poor people can’t afford such expensive therapeutics. We want to give our citizens a good quality of life.These things are really overpriced because we are importing them.I do not think putting a price cap is really going to harm the industry per se.

Q. In India budget for R&D is miniscule in comparison to countries like U.S,how can we tackle it ? Should R&D department try to become self-sustainingas ISRO ?

Ans. This is like a catch 22 situation. See no universities or institution can become self-Sustained overnight. Look at the history of ISRO, It was the most funded organization by the government of India at a particular time. Gradually over time they have achieved this.

Universities are primary education provider to the masses of country. It is not easy to become self sustained when we are subsidizing our education.R&D can’t become self sustained but it can be self generating.For this government has to play pro-active role. The govt. needs to   speed up the process of granting patents,funds. A research can’t wait for 4 to 5 years for patenting and then 4 to 5 years for commercialization becauseat that time it would be outdated.

Q. No Indian institute in top ranking according to global magazines, are we really lacking in Quality education ?

Ans. The ranking is done on a lot of parameters like if we see in Delhi University  itself the university admits about one lakh students every year but see how much jobs we are producing, not even half. The whole thing depends on inputs and outputs. We are really at obsolete terms in jobproduction. We need to do more about it.We need to change our education system from Degree oriented to skill oriented. Skill India is really a good step in this direction. If people are trained at early level they will be better equipped to earn income for their families.   Our education system has not evolved with the rest of the world. The problem is that we are equating all things with degree and money not skill.

Q. The recent controversy over GM mustard shows that still politics penetrate in scientific endeavors. How can we improve upon that? What is the scope of Genetically modified plants in India ?

Ans. There are two sides of a coin. Everything has got its own benefits as well as negative effects. We have to think rationally. There are lots of positive points of GM crops but some imaginative negative points are also there.There are some issues and the scientific community must address them.Even there are issues with conventional hybridization Technology. We need to think it rationally. The problem is that the majority of our people don’t know what a genetically modified crop is.Scientific community should really look into this. Certain rules should be formed for genetically modified crops.

Q. Where the humankind is really heading? IS this development or destruction ?

Ans. It is neither development nor destruction. We are just evolving and this is what we are doing since timeimmemorial. Even the bacteria are an intelligent lifeform and they are also evolving. Now we have much more advanced diagnostics techniques. We need to change our mentality that humans are there to capture the whole world. We as humanshave duty to maintain the equilibrium in the nature.

Q. What keeps you motivated ?

Ans. Long time back I had a dream that I should give something back to the society. I am very fortunate and happy that I am able to do this in part. We have developed some very cost effective methods of diagnostics that are very helpful to poor people. I am fortunate that I have very good students. We as researches work in group nobody can do science alone so it’s our collective effort and hope it would be realized soon.

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