Prof. Dr. Madan Thangavelu
Genome Biologist at Cambridge University,
General Secretary and Research Director of the EUAA – European Ayurveda Association
Prof. Madan is a genome biologist with an unusually diverse academic background and range of research interests. He was born in 1959 in Trivandrum in the state of Kerala (India). Before Cambridge, he studied Agriculture and has a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and a Master’s in Plant Breeding and Genetics – both from Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar in the North Indian state of Haryana. As an Inlaks Foundation Scholar (1982 Trinity Hall) his Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics on the genes for the cytoskeletal protein actin was conducted at the erstwhile Plant Breeding Institute, Trumpington. The study provided the first evidence for extensive tissue level expression of members of the very large family of actin genes in plants. His post-doctoral research experiences span areas in plant, fungal, bacterial and human cancer genomics. His current primary research interest is the development of single DNA molecule and single cell techniques for genome analysis. Following a PhD in Molecular Genetics from the University of Cambridge, his recent academic affiliations have included Research Fellowships at the Department of Oncology, University of Cambridge, Medical Research Council Cancer Cell Unit, Cambridge and Leverhulme Research Fellow, Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge.
As a Leverhulme Foundation Research Fellow (1999) at the MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology MRC-LMB) and later as a Research Fellow at the Medical Research Council - Cancer Cell Unit and Department of Oncology, University of Cambridge he developed novel approaches and applications of single DNA molecule and single cell approaches for analysis of genomes and genome dynamics and genome variation. He is the inventor of the Molecular Copy Counting technique - very high resolution and high sensitive technique for describing genomic variation at the level of single cells and single DNA molecules. These techniques are providing unusual insights into the highly plastic nature of the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes and the epigenome and novel ways to map and describe the dynamics of DNA changes in normal processes like aging and in human disease including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic diseases and various inherited diseases. The techniques also point to uncertainty in biology which calls for complementary approaches for appreciating human health and disease particularly in the highly intractable areas of human aging, psychosomatic diseases and disease complexes where direct approaches are unlikely to yield results.
He is the General Secretary, Board Member and Research Director, European Ayurveda Association.( http://www.euroayurveda.eu/euaa/executives/), and an International Advisory Board Member of AYU: International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda, Jamnagar, India ( http://www.ayujournal.org/editorialboard.asp ), International Editorial Advisory Board Member AyuCaRe – Journal of Ayurveda Case Reports, All India Institute of Ayurveda, New Delhi, India – https://aiia.gov.in/. He was also Trustee of the Research Council for Complementary Medicine (UK). He is Honorary Adjunct Professor at the TransDisciplinary University, Bangalore, India ( tdu.edu.in/ ), Center for Functional Genomics & Bio-informatics ( tdu.edu.in/genomics ). He is a Member of the Mind-Matter Unification Project of the Theory of Condensed Matter Group at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, Directed by Professor Brian Josephson.
Further details are in his LinkedIn profile: https:/www.linkedin.com/in/genomebiologist.
Contribution to the Videocongress on 20 June 2020:
Transcript of the Contribution:
Thank you, Thomas, thank you all, thank you for this warm welcome to the Congress. I had hoped we would all be together in Prague, but unfortunately, it was not to be.
Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19)
We are in an unusual situation when it comes to health and well-being and healthcare. The fragility of our predicament and the state of affairs we are in are shown very nicely, and that is why we cannot come together. This is not the first time in the past few years that we have had such problems. We have experienced viral diseases that have taken a lot of lives, and the helplessness of the systems of health and healthcare and education that we have today is unfortunately revealed very nicely by our current position. There are many more such viruses and pandemics waiting to happen. The United Kingdom‘s high communicable diseases list comprises at least 16 different viruses waiting to appear on the scene. The details are on their website and it is quite worrying that such things are waiting to happen. What is the answer? What is the way out of this situation that we are in and that medical care and health systems are faced with?
Example from the Indian state of Kerala
The small state of Kerala in India provides an example of how one might find an answer. It is a very populated part of the world, with about 37 million people – which equals about the size of the population of Canada - living in 0.5 % of the land area of Canada. The density of people and the dangers of such epidemics and pandemics can be seen in such crowded places. Yet they have managed to contain the coronavirus crisis, they managed to contain the Nipah virus crisis last year, which is an even more dangerous virus, and there are messages here for all of us as a community: the best practice in health and healthcare could be anywhere in the world, and we should start to accept these practices wherever they are. We must be proactive in going out, engaging with communities and learning from different communities.
Platform 2020 Prague
I therefore feel that this Platform that is developing in Prague is going to be a platform, not just for Europe, but for all of the world and we should approach it in that way; to be welcoming whatever the system of health and healing may be, to be curious, to curate the information that is available to all of us and to help develop this as the health needs and health challenges of the world come to us thick and fast.
Vision for health care
I want to take this opportunity to present my wishes in terms where I believe health and healthcare should be going, and I present this in the context of the European Union and a little bit in terms of a slightly larger vision.
This is where the European Union is in terms of health and healthcare: a large part of the funding is being discussed and falls under this vision called EU4Health, a vision for a safer and healthier European Union, which starts in January next year, and will run for the next six years. The details are available online and I think it is useful for all of us to find some time to look through documents like this.
In a document from the 28th of May, when we were in the thick of the covid crisis, President von der Leyen made an interesting comment: “We will stop at nothing to save lives.” He goes on to offer a vision for where Europe wants to be. Europe wants to provide a model of healthcare for the rest of the world, a model which is very different from what is available across the ocean in America. Europe feels that by giving something of this nature to Europe, it is also providing a very important model for the rest of the world.
When we look at the quantum of funding that is made available, it is not a very large amount. It is about 10.4 trillion euros, and there are various places which will provide this funding to enable this. In comparison to the health budgets for the about 350 million people in America, this is miniscule, this is a fraction of the healthcare budget in America.
It is within this kind of setting that this Platform, evolving in Prague, presents itself and announces itself to the world, saying where it wants to be, where it wants to go.
What I found very disappointing in this proposal from the European Union, is the aspect of health in terms of health and not healthcare. I searched through this large document from the 28th of May, and the kind of message I found was the following: Europe is still lagging behind in how it should be perceiving health. Right now, it sees only added-value scalable initiatives. Health is still not appreciated as health; health is still viewed as something very different. On searching through this document, I see at the very end of the annex, the inclusion of the following statement: “Communication to promote disease prevention and healthy lifestyles, in cooperation with all concerned actors.” It seems like this large union is still embarrassed about the concept of health, and about delivering health as something very different from health care.
Definition of health
I have coined the phrase “Infectious Health”. Unfortunately it takes on a kind of status that seems like a conflict, that is the way it comes across to a lot of people.
Whenever you talk about health, it is seen only as something that comes out of healthcare. Health is not understood as something independent, given to all human beings. Health sits firmly within healthcare, and healthcare as we have it right now. Everybody in this gathering will agree that healthcare is nothing other than the commoditization of disease versus what we should be arriving at – well-being – which is the commoditization of health. These are challenges for us and I am hoping that this Platform in Prague will point us and shift the narrative towards some aspect of health.
What would happen if health were as infectious as a virus and did not know boundaries - which is what in fact it is? Health is open to all, help is available to all, and it has no boundaries. Somehow this message of health is not getting through across the industrialized countries, nations of the world, or even the older nations of the world, India and China in particular, where the narrative is still that of health based on disease, on disease care.
I hope this Platform, by providing the focal point for the whole world to come and learn about other ways to look at healthcare and well-being, will also open up this narrative on health.
For people who are embarrassed about health, I would ask them to think about this as the commodification of well-being. Within this, we will have to develop new ways of measuring and auditing health and ways of preventing disease. How do we go about measuring this? Everybody wants to measure something, and only then can you start the whole process of commodification. What is it that is needed, what needs to be done and what needs to be done to take healthcare to a new way of looking at health?
Is there a way to approach this? Yes, it seems there is now a way. It is starting to be accepted around the world, and it connects with the Sustainable Development Goals. If we start to look at each of these goals, we will certainly see a new way of looking at health, a way of rearranging those big businesses to look at health in a slightly different way.
Is this happening? It seems like this narrative is happening and it is happening in Europe. There is the annual event at Gastein in Austria. It comes up with a very provocative title on the new narrative that mine is trying to juggle with, and the title says “Dancing with elephants”. We do not know what those elephants are but I know what they might be. The subtitle says “New partnerships for health, democracy, and businesses”.
I feel that this Platform that is evolving in Prague should grow into being the catalyst, the important catalyst that enables these new partnerships. Partnerships to show that there can be partnerships between businesses and health, not as healthcare, but health as health, and to develop new dialogues and new direct narratives with democracy. What is it that people are wanting? We seem to have a disconnect between what people want and what governments want, and this is seen in almost every nation of the world today - and even more so in terms of healthcare. My wish and my hope is that a platform, a neutral platform like the one we are catalysing in Prague, will enable this for the future.
I leave you with this wonderful message that has brought about a lot of change in parts of the world, and I feel our message from Prague will follow this sequence:
First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win.
They will ignore us at first, and maybe when our presence grows stronger, they will laugh at us, and there will be a point where they will fight us, and at that point we will know that we are on the right track and that we are making good progress. I hope that, over the weeks and months ahead, we will draw a bigger audience to our Platform and that we will be able to populate this Platform with valuable information.
Tomas already has one of the best compilations I have seen for complementary and alternative medicine, and it is already available on his website.
I hope somehow that this network of minds from different parts of the world will start pointing more people to this resource. We will populate this resource and we will reach the point where they will not be able to ignore us.
Thank you for your attention.