Presidential Address by  
Shri Dhirubhai Mehta
President, Kasturba Health Society during Inaugural function of the Workshop on 
“Medical Informatics, Research & Communication,” 
Nov 26-28, 2001.

I am glad to know that 3rd National Level Workshop on “Medical Informatics, Research & Communication” is being organized by Bioinformatics Centre at our Institute during November 26-28, 2001. I would like to extend a warm welcome to Dr. K. Satyanarayana, Dr. Gulshan Wadhwa and to all the visiting experts and participants to Sevagram, a place hallowed by the ‘Father of the Nation’.

            Bioinformatics Centre established at our Institute with support from Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has been actively helping research workers by providing medline search service, internet access and in-house training. The ‘Sevamed’ a quarterly update on ‘Infectious Disease Research and Traditional Medicine’ being published by this Centre, has been well received by scientists and medical teachers. Between last November 2000 and this November 2001, much water has flown down the genetic Ganges. We are in a schizophrenic world. On the one hand we have the Osama Bin Laden and President Bush phenomena, where modern technology has been put to pour terror into the heart of every person on earth. On the other hand we have great advances in computer and information technology for the betterment of mankind. It was Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Saint of Gandhian era who told us : “Science plus spirituality will bring us Sarvodaya- good of all and science minus spirituality will invite sarva-nash- destruction of everything”. Our country has the tradition of putting any invention to the betterment of mankind. So, I am very glad that our Bioinformatics Centre at Sevagram is once again gathering national talents to debate on further uses of bioinformatics.

            This is said to be the ‘Information age’. The unprecedented growth of the Internet presented a defining moment at the dawn of the millennium. There has been an explosion in the field of scientific information. Thanks to the parallel developments in communication tools, it has now become possible to provide straight forward access of such useful data to the end users like Scientists, Technologists and Health care professionals via internet that stores wealth of information literally at fingertips.

            In fact the growth of the Informatics has made tremendous impact in the field of Medicine, more than in any other field. Last year in an article published in the July issue of ‘National Medical Journal of India’, it was estimated that there were approximately 800 million web pages on the internet and among them more than million websites related to medicine. Such a vast data on intensive findings will be the major driving force in discovery of new drugs, diagnostics, essential blood products and vaccines to help us in our fight against the deadly diseases. For example, these developments have totally changed the way the new drugs are designed and developed rationally and that too in a very short time compared to classical methods. That was how the revolutionary AZT drug for AIDS was developed by Welcome Trust. We are in an age with seemingly simple but persistent problems such as malnutrition, anaemia, TB, leprosy, Filaria etc., that demand from the medical researcher not only a deep study of clinical material but also the full knowledge of harnessing the powers of the computer, websites to internet and informatics.

            The one great finding that marked the last year was the decoding of the human genome. Whereas we earlier thought that we have hundred-thousand (100,000) genes, we have been humbled by the discovery that the human genes do not exceed the figure of 34000. We were further humbled when we were told that we share 99% of our genes with all the other animals. We were further cut down to size by coming to know that two human beings resemble genetically each other literally 99.8%. It is only a fraction of a percent which gives us our individuality. In fact, according to Tom Shakespeare, a British researcher, humans share 57% of their genetic sequence with cabbage and 98% with monkeys. As a student of Vedanta all that I gleam from these researches is the fact that human beings are equal and that the same God permeates E.coli organism, elephant and Einstein. It is very correct that it is “Isa Vashyam Idam Sarvam Et Kinchit Jagatyam Jagat”.

            The paucity of the number of our genes has raised yet another vital question. It has been recognized that each gene controls thousands of proteins which are the regulators of life processes in health and disease. A new science has emerged and it is called ‘Proteomics’. Already an institution in America has 18 million dollar grant to launch this new science. The proponents of proteomics declare that human genes and genome are too gross and too crude for the understanding of life’s intricacy. Therefore they declare that the future belongs to proteomics. I am afraid that a few years down the line and a few trillion dollars down the research drain we will be told that proteomics is too crude and we need some new molecular science. That is for the future to reveal. I am saying this not out of any cynicism or lack of faith in research, but out of past experience.

            The progressive refinement in computer technology, information search and information retrieval and the bringing down of the cost of computer will pave the way for very easy transmission of data the world over. The day is not far that a little play on the computer keyboard will bring Stanford University at the door steps of Sevagram and vice versa. I can see that bioinformatics has shrunk the whole world literally to the size of a computer screen. What is global has become local. Again, Acharya Vinoba Bhave had taught us : “ Think Globally, Act Locally”. Probably now it will be possible to fulfill this dream. The Americans, with their penchant for new words, have declared that there is globalisation of information science. The whole world is a small computer village and you all here are the chosen elite of this village. I wish all of you a very thrilling information time. Dr. Harinath and his team are truly at the cutting edge of the information technology and that augurs well for Sevagram in particular and India generally.

            Taking this opportunity we really appreciate Dr. Manju Sarma, Secretary and Dr. Madhan Mohan, Director DBT for the understanding, support and encouragement for strengthening the Bioinformatics Centre. We are grateful to Dr. N. K. Ganguly, DG, ICMR for approving association of ICMR staff in development of Biomedical Communication skills in this Workshop.