Inspiring students to help the needy

Professor George Kanianthara Chandy, 62, joined the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University in January this year as a professor of molecular physiology. He also serves as scientific director of the school's infection and immunity research programme.

The father of two studied medicine at Christian Medical College in Vellore, India. Working in a virology laboratory at the college sparked his interest in research.

In 1983, he joined the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in the United States as a postdoctoral clinician-scientist in the division of basic and clinical immunology. He moved to the department of physiology and biophysics in 1990, and was eventually promoted to professor.

His wife, Dr Susan Zachariah, is a psychiatrist. Their older son, Thomas, 35, runs a company that provides continuing medical education to physicians. Their younger son, Zachariah, 27, is a fourth-year medical student at UCI.

Prof Chandy said his research here involves several conditions, including dry eye disease, where the immune system destroys tear glands and causes people to go blind.

His team is also looking at how to improve kidney dialysis, which many people with diabetes need eventually, as well as hepatitis treatments.

In addition, the infection and immunity researchers are studying Burkholderia, a common bacterium in Asia, which can cause fatal pneumonia and is frequently linked to diabetes.

Apart from studying diseases, Prof Chandy hopes to inspire students to give back to poorer communities in the region.

"In the US, I got many awards for teaching," he said.

"I used to take students to hospitals in India, because I wanted them to realise that billions of people on this planet live on less than US$2 (S$2.70) a day.

"I'm really interested in getting PhD students here to spend three weeks teaching and collaborating with people in, say, Yangon or Phnom Penh."

This article was first published on June 14, 2015.
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