THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: An old robot that is still in the Principal’s room at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Pattom, would have many tales to tell of its creator - the little genius, Sadasivan Vidyasagar, of how he attempted to make an omelette-making machine that would break the egg with a saw so that it directly pours on to the ‘tava’ and, believe it or not, a ‘dosa’-making machine that would even flip a ‘dosa.’
But what it might not know is that Vidyasagar went on to become a doctor from the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, doing his masters in general surgery along with a PhD in Electrophysiology from CMC Vellore. He got one more doctorate degree from the Yale University, guided by the world-renowned Henry Binder, whose book on the subject is a textbook that most medical students refer.
"The second PhD was also in Electrophysiology and that was more for working under such an eminent scientist. I would not have got such an experience anywhere else in the world,’’ says Dr Sadasivan Vidyasagar, now a faculty member at the University of Florida. He was in the city on a short visit.
Dr Sadasivan Vidyasagar is now a name synonymous with radiation mitigation agents, or substances that can bring down the negative effects of radiation, especially in the gastrointestinal tract.
This is especially important in the case of cancer patients, who have to undergo radiation treatments.
"When you give radiation, what happens is that the cancer cells die. But the gut lumen becomes porous and leaky. This results in the gut bacteria moving across the pores into the blood, causing a number of complications. We are looking at substances that will create a barrier to this gut permeability,’’ said Dr Vidyasagar.
This kind of gut permeability can happen not just during cancer treatment, but also under severe stress conditions such as surgical stress or even while running a marathon. While giving glucose drinks to patients after radiation is a normal practice, Dr Vidyasagar and team have found that this could worsen the diarrhoea.
One of the first compounds that they tried as a radiation mitigation agent was curcumin, obtained from turmeric. But now they are studying different combinations of amino acids that will also lead to better absorption. The radiation mitigation agents that they have developed have uses beyond cancer treatment.
This can be used to protect soldiers during a dirty bomb explosion as well as a protective agent in case of nuclear reactor leak or failure as it happened in Japan during the recent tsunami.
Before he signed off, Dr Vidyasagar told us something that our grandmothers and their grandmothers have been telling us - that the best health drink that you can possibly get is the fermented ‘pazhankanji,’ where the carbohydrates are broken down by microbes!