As head of the Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology Department at Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, Dr. Debashish Danda is accustomed to a hectic schedule. Danda leads a 10-member staff of physicians, residents and consultants that treats about 40,000 patients annually. But after years in the clinic, Danda wanted to know more about the genetic roots of the autoimmune diseases he sees every day, conditions like lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis.
When a group of OMRF scientists visited Christian Medical College and formed a partnership between the two institutions, it created the perfect opportunity for Danda. So for the past year, he’s taken leave of his clinical duties to do research at OMRF into the cause of autoimmunity in his diverse Indian patient base.
“Essentially, I’m a physician with an enormous patient population,” he says. “Expanding my research by collaborating with scientists at OMRF will make a big difference to Vellore and the people of India.”
While on sabbatical at OMRF, Danda has kept as busy in the lab as he typically does treating patients. His work has included studies of people suffering from Sjögren’s syndrome (an autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s moisture-producing glands), an analysis of the damage caused by highly reactive oxygen molecules known as free radicals, and understanding the role of Indian spices, like curcumin, in the diet as health modifications.
Danda comes to OMRF as the Esther Z. Greenberg Scholar in Biomedical Research. Endowed by former Bear Stearns chairman and Oklahoma native Alan “Ace” Greenberg, the program is named for Greenberg’s late mother. It brings distinguished international scientists to Oklahoma to enhance existing research at OMRF and foster overseas partnerships.
“International collaboration has long been a focus here,” says OMRF President Dr. Stephen Prescott. “To do the best research possible, we need to work with experts in every field, all around the world.”
OMRF’s Dr. Hal Scofield spent a week in India with Danda in 2011 and was excited to bring him to Oklahoma to build a research partnership. “He’s doing amazing work in Vellore, but he was interested in learning new techniques and focusing on lab-based, genetic research,” Scofield says. “When you treat so many patients, you get ideas you want to test, and that falls right in line with the clinical, translational research we’re doing here.”