At a time when the research world was rife with the turmeric patent controversy, Bhushan Patwardhans novel composition to treat musculoskeletal disorders which had turmeric as one of its ingredients received a US patent. More recently, he is experimenting with a far reaching innovationthe university curriculum. He conducted a competition among MBA students to design their own curriculum and after a similar competition nationwide, Patwardhan now plans to take the winning entry to his universitys Board of Studies. The idea is to get it implemented.
Be it research or academic governance, everything that Dr Patwardhan, the former Vice Chancellor of Symbiosis International University (SIU) does has a whiff of innovation. Curricula are usually designed to suit teachers requirements and not on what students need to learn. So, there is a lot of junk burdening students that kills their innovative capabilities, says Patwardhan.
Shastra to Science
In fact, Patwardhans first initial research ideas were as innovative, rooted as they were in a childhood incident. He was hardly nine or 10 years old when his aunt, Indumati, cured a deep wound in his foot using oil dripping from a heated black nut that dhobis (washermen) use for marking clothes. That incident became the inspiration for his PhD thesisChemistry and Pharmacology of Semecarpus Anacardium (scientific name of black nut, also called Bibba/Bhallataka). The research was aimed at finding evidence to support the traditional claims that Bhallataka is analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.
His research also made him realise the significance of Indias traditional knowledge and the need to understand it more fully using modern science. For Ayurveda to gain global acceptance, India needs to generate sufficient evidence base with the help of modern science and experimental rigour, says Patwardhan, who has made this quest his lifes mission. He began with studying the immunity boosting and anti-stress properties of a few rasayanas, including Ashwagandha, Shatavari and Amalaki. Then, in a first of its kind of study, he developed vaccine adjuvants (packing material vaccines require for better immune response) with rasayanas, which not only improved delivery of the vaccine but also increased its efficacy. This might be the answer to vaccine manufacturers looking for a better alternative for alum, which they have been traditionally using as an adjuvant, despite its toxicity.
The drugs he developed for arthritis are available in the market under the brand names Artrex and Articulin Forte. The former is manufactured by BioVed, a San Jose-based company, while the latter is made by Eisen Pharmaceuticals, Pune. He is now in the process of commercialising a drug for Type II diabetes.
While working on his MSc dissertation at Ahmednagar College, he learnt experimental microbiology and natural product chemistry. After that, he got a research fellowship to do his PhD from Haffkine Institute, Mumbai, a multi-disciplinary biomedical institute, where he learnt anaerobic bacteriology, animal pharmacology, toxicology, immunology and basics of pharmaceutical drug development. All of this helped him get an overview of modern research methods.
His worldview was shaped by his family. Born in a middle class joint family of 24 people in Pune, Patwardhan learnt the importance of caring, sharing and respecting another viewpoint. He carried these values to the workplace. Wherever he worked, he became known for creating a kinship among co-workers, a carryforward of the mohalla culture he grew up in. The idea is to connect and make everyone own the place, he says. Even today, his students have free access to his home who can walk into his kitchen anytime and rustle up a meal.
This practice comes from the community kitchen his family used to have, where all the women in the family, including his wife Bhagyada, took turns to cook. Despite coming from a smaller family, she adjusted to a joint family very well. It is her simplicity that I liked best, says Patwardhan, who was introduced to Bhagyada through his elder brothers friend in 1984. My work involved travelling. I could do that peacefully as I never had to worry about anything on the home-front, thanks to her, he says.While Bhagyada, who is into share trading business, has been the primary caregiver for their daughters, Gayatri and Ketaki, Patwardhan has been more of a friend to them and gave them quality time and freedom to choose their careers. Elder daughter Gayatri has done MS in Environmental Architecture from the University of Arizona, while Ketaki is a PhD student in Pharmaceuticals at the University of Mississippi.
His enthusiasm for table tennis, chess and fitness comes from his sportsman father Keshav (popular as Raya Kaka), while his inspiration to become a teacher is inherited from his mother Sunita, who taught Marathi at Lonavala College.
Coming of Age
After his BSc from Fergusson College, he moved to School of Biological Studies, Ahmednagar for his MSc in Biochemistry. For the first time, Patwardhan was outside the secure environment of his joint family. Those two years proved to be transformative for him. I used to be an introvert earlier. But as I did not know anybody in Ahmednagar, I had to make an effort to talk to people. Finally, when I was leaving, a large number of people came to see me off at the station, says Patwardhan, who is known for his networking skills.
Networking to Lead
These skills came in handy when he led a large herbal drug network project under the New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), where he had to work together with 14 research institutions and industry players like All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Dabur and Nicholas Piramal.
Having worked with the industry (Hindustan Antibiotics Limited (HAL) and Serum Institute) during his MSc days and at Eisen Pharmaceuticals and LiTaka Pharmaceuticals after his PhD, he learnt how to get scientific work done at industry level. Naturally, he initiated industry-academia collaborations wherever he went. While at Pune University, he got many pharmaceutical companies like Wockhardt, Lupin, Torrent, HAL, Emcure and Serum Institute recognised as research centres of the Pune University, which resulted in the scientists at these companies and the teachers at the university also collaborating.
Later, as chief of academics at Manipal Education Group, he was instrumental in establishing one of the most successful industry-academia collaborations in the countrythe ICICI Manipal Academy. He was also responsible for global cosmetic company Loreals tie-up with IIM, Bangalore, while he was doing his MBA there. In the first board meeting of Manipal Education, I could not understand even simple terms like top line and bottom line. Thats when I decided to study management. Educators have to manage institutions and yet we do not get any training for it, says Patwardhan, who has begun implementing corporate concepts like performance-based pay and 360 degree evaluation of the faculty and students at SIU.
Pushing New Pedagogy
His students never get readymade notes. As a teacher, Patwardhan empowers students to ask questions. He believes in participatory learning and interactive sessions. I like to make students think, he says. He follows the traditional sequence of pedagogy adhidi, bodha, acharana and pracharana (absorbing information, analysing it, practising and preaching), along with wiki and moodle. Mere information dissemination is not teaching anymore. With internet and 4G mobile telephony, students can download information anytime, anywhere. The new role of a teacher is that of a facilitator and mentor, who shares his/ her experiences and helps in a deeper understanding of the information. Unless we change with the changing times, we will not progress, says Patwardhan, who begins every course with forming a google group, on which assignments are given and submitted and information exchanged.
He loves teaching and research and despite his busy schedule, spends 12 hours a week on the two. He teaches ethnopharmacology, drug discovery and development, pharmacognosy to MSc, MPharm and PhD students at Symbiosis.
At SIU, he introduced floating credits, whereby students can take 10 per cent of their credits from any stream. For instance, an MBA student can take a credit in photography. In fact, it was Patwardhan who was responsible for conceptualising and implementing credit system at Pune University, earlier. He also prepared the Vision 2020 Document for University of Pune and led the initiative, resulting in its being recognised as a University with Potential for Excellence by the UGC.
Administrator Au Naturel
As a UGC nominee on Governing Boards (2003-08), he closely watched the functioning of various universities and is also on the boards of DY Patil University and Bharati Vidyapeeth.
His vast experience in academic governance and administration of Pune University helped him understand the intricacies and nuances of governing an academic institution. He was on its senate, management council, academic council, executive council, board of studies and made significant contribution to every committee he was a member of. When he chaired the grievances committee, he ensured that all the 100 odd staff stuck for years without promotions and increments got their rightful dues in two years timesomething he is remembered for even today. Sometimes heading various committees at a young age was also a challenge. I had to sit on the confirmation committees of my own teachers. That was tough, he says.