Over the course of a year, Debashish Danda, M.D., D.M., leads a 10-member staff of physicians, residents and consultants to treat about 40,000 patients.
As head of the Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology department at Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, he is used to being busy treating patients with autoimmune diseases. But after years in the clinic, Danda wants to know more about the genetic roots of diseases like lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis.
Which is why he has come to OMRF as part of an international collaboration to spend a year doing research into the cause of autoimmunity in the diverse Indian population.
“Essentially, I’m a physician with an enormous patient population,” he said. “I’m looking forward to expanding my research by collaborating with scientists at OMRF.”
While he’s on sabbatical at OMRF, Danda has no plans to slow down. Instead, he’s lined up an impressive list of collaborations, including ongoing work at OMRF on false negatives in primary Sjögren’s patients, a comparative study of free radical damage and understanding the role of Indian spices in the diet as health modifications.
Danda said he hopes to leverage OMRF’s expertise in genome-wide association studies (or GWAS) to better understand the genetic roots of autoimmunity in the Indian population.
Ancestral roots are complex in India with mixtures of different ethnicities, and it is reflected in the patterns and prevalence of autoimmune rheumatic diseases in various regions of the country. Significantly, this strong mix of cultures might also provide information on how human beings react differently to the same disease.
Danda comes to OMRF as the Esther Z. Greenberg Scholar in Biomedical Research. Endowed by former Bear Stearns chairman Alan “Ace” Greenberg and named for his mother, the Greenberg Scholar Program brings distinguished international scientists to Oklahoma to enhance existing research at OMRF.
“International collaboration has long been a focus at OMRF. To do the best research possible, we need to work with experts in every field, all around the world,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D.
In the past few years, OMRF has formed partnerships with The Rajiv Ghandi Centre for Biotechnology in Thiruvananthapuram, India, The Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and The Institute of Biophysics, Academy of Chinese Sciences in Beijing, China.
OMRF scientist Hal Scofield, M.D., was the first to meet Danda and was excited to bring him to Oklahoma for a research sabbatical.
“He’s doing amazing work in Vellore, but he was interested in learning new techniques and focusing on lab-based, genetic research,” Scofield said. “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.”
“I must thank OMRF’s administration, the Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Research Program and all the scientists and collaborators who are helping to materialize these dreams,” Danda said. “It will make a big difference to Vellore and the people of India.”
Since 1987, there have been 30 Greenberg scholars from Israel, England, Canada, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Argentina and Australia. Marta Alarcon-Riquelme, M.D., Ph.D., came to OMRF in 2008 as a Greenberg Scholar before joining the foundation’s Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Research Program as an associate member.