Department of Biochemistry at South Campus, DU
(1983 to 2018)
University of Delhi, established in 1922 in North Delhi, started its sojourn in biological sciences with the departments of Botany and Zoology. South Campus was established in 1973, when the University expanded in many directions to keep pace with a rapidly growing city, to facilitate access for the residents of South Delhi. Since its very inception in 1973, South Campus started offering postgraduate programmes in selected departments of the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences in a rented building. It was subsequently allotted land near Dhaula Kuan where a new building was erected and the offices and teaching activities shifted to this campus in 1983 at its present location on Benito Juarez Road. In the same year, the department of Biochemistry was established in South Campus without any faculty members and separate building. The Master’s course in Biochemistry was run as a guest course at the Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute (VPCI). In 1985, Late Prof. Bimal K. Bachhawat after his superannuation from IICB, Kolkata, joined as Head of the Department at South campus. The department had no building, funding or infrastructure to support research at that point and he was concerned about the challenges of starting a full-fledged department. Under these trying circumstances, in 1986, the new session of M.Sc. was moved to South Campus heralding a new beginning and glorious future.
A generous grant from DBT to the father of the department Late Prof. B.K. Bachhawat, under the leadership of Dr. S. Ramachandran, kick started the research activities in the department. By then, temporary space was allotted to the department in the arts faculty building and two more faculty members, Drs. Anil K. Tyagi and Prahlad C. Ghosh, boarded the ship. Based on Prof. Bachhawat’s old love in liposome mediated drug delivery, “Liposome Research Centre” was created within the department utilizing the DBT support, and Dr. Ghosh carried on the legacy. Dr. Tyagi initiated his research on Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Dr. Ghosh set up the first animal tissue culture laboratory to explore toxin trafficking and delivery. With a dedicated team of young M.Sc. (six only), M.Phil. and Ph.D. students, inspired and motivated by the great “Guru Ji” Prof. Bachhawat, the department embarked on an ambitious development stages in the late eighties and early nineties. Prof. Bachhawat, along with Late Prof. U.N. Singh (Head, Department of Biophysics, South Campus) created a free, frank and fearless atmosphere of learning with a goal for high quality research. Several distinguished senior faculty members from in and out of University of Delhi volunteered tireless teaching support to strengthen Prof. Bachhawat’s mission. Shortage of water and electricity supply, lack of expert engineering and infrastructure support, or any other disadvantages could not halt the spirit imbibed by “Guru Ji”, so much so that being the only resident of the campus, Prof. Bachhawat’s daily routine extended to late night (and sometime whole night) self-service of procuring generator on rental basis and spending sleepless nights to restore expensive/perishable biochemicals in the freezers. It is indeed a unique and unparalleled way of present day “Guru-Sishya” relationship that enabled the prevailing high-energy atmosphere to build the department brick by brick.
In 1988, two young faculty members Drs. Debi P Sarkar and Rajiv Bhat strengthened the spirit of Bachhawat. Unfortunately Rajiv Bhat left for JNU for lack of faculty accommodation on campus. Debi, fearing odds in erecting his research career, attempted repeated futile escape to USA. However, serious healthy and constructive threats by Guru Ji and others forced Debi to abandon foreign ambitions. He slowly accepted the challenges in a competitive environment and started spreading his scientific roots. The scenario changed towards accelerated development when in 1990 an extraordinarily accomplished scientist (trained in NCI/NIH, USA) Dr. Vijay K. Chaudhary returned from bed of roses (NCI/NIH) and expressed his intention to initiate recombinant DNA/biotechnology ventures in South Campus. In addition, he took up the task of building infrastructure on campus conducive to high-quality research. With total five faculty members (including Bachhawat), the small ship exhibited and expressed all signs of courage to sail the adverse weather. Although the ship was small, the ambitions were monumental, the philosophy was grand and to top it all it was captained by a brave man whose shadow cast tall. Within a span of almost eight years, teaching reached impeccable standards and research attained world class quality. Some such achievements are highlighted below in a chronological order.
Bachhawat’s own work in the field of liposome research of using a highly toxic polyene antibiotic for the treatment of fungal infection passed the phase II clinical trials at GS Medical College, Mumbai. At present his technology is licensed to a R&D company in Delhi and is available to treat human patients. Bachhawat was conferred one of the country’s highest honor “Padma Bhushan” by the President of India in 1990. Prof. Anil Tyagi’s research took shape in terms of prolific publication and recognition in the area of vaccine development for tuberculosis. Lately, he has also diversified in validation of drug targets for tuberculosis and development of potential lead molecules against the same. First important recognition (to South Campus faculty) - Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award - in medical sciences came to Tyagi in 1995. Three faculties (Anil, Vijay and Debi) were elected as members of the prestigious “BC Guha Research Conference”. The father of the department could personally experience the success of his hard work. He was extremely happy and gained confidence that the seed sown by him will most likely assume the birth of a monstrous tree and bear healthy fruits for future. With much peace of mind, on the morning of 23rd September, 1996, Bachhawat left us for heavenly abode from a small room of NII guest house in Delhi. Thus, the Bachhawat era ended with much glory/fanfare and “post-Bachhawat” era of super challenge ensued.
Prof. Vijay, Prof. Prahlad and Prof. Debi took oath to complete Bachhawat’s mission under the guidance of the senior most family member, Prof. Anil K. Tyagi. The team started working like men possessed with wild fire. In fact, not only Biochemistry department but the whole campus appeared to be super-infected by Bachhawat’s ideology/moral and laboratories of all life science departments were open 24 hours and round the year. Prof. Vijay’s work on novel HIV diagnostics in whole blood, that was commercialized, added real fame to the department. Prof. Debi’s work in the area of virus mediated targeted gene/drug delivery brought more laurels both in term of peer reviewed publications, first US patent in 1997 and another honor of Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award in Biological Sciences in 1998. Prof. Prahlad’s work on stealth liposomes started taking shape and he was elected Fellow of NASI, Allahabad in 1994. Numerous awards and fame buoyed the department to glory. Along the way, a new building for life science departments was created and aptly named as “BK Bachhawat Block”. The team built the entire required infrastructure for cutting edge research. Finally, under the leadership of Prof. Deepak Pental, former Vice Chancellor of University of Delhi, a swanky state-of-the art building adorned South Campus where various life science departments were partly housed and hosted industry-academia partnership as well.
As per prophetic forecast by Prof. Bachhawat, no faculty recruited by him deserted the department in spite of many lucrative offers elsewhere. He provided the great “Bachhawat Model” of how to set a stable new department in a University backdrop. For 17 years the four pillars of the department held the fort. In 2006-2007, thanks to the efforts of Debi Sarkar, the department was bolstered and re-energized by the addition of three faculties (Dr. Suman Kundu, Dr. Alo Nag and Dr. Suneel Kateriya). Soon enough the intake of M.Sc. students swelled to 12 per year and the department expanded with enhanced intake of Ph.D students as well. The addition of fresh recruits brought new perspective to the department and helped it during the transition from an annual to semester mode of teaching, where new courses were added and it was possible to teach the entire curriculum without involving external teachers, except immunology. New research areas also surfaced in the department. Dr. Kundu initiated structural biology and his research aims to engineer heme stability in hemoglobins for use as artificial blood substitute, to develop potential drugs to prevent hypertension and other cardiac malfunction and to set up new diagnostic tools for detection of hemoglobinopathies. Dr. Nag focused on Cancer biology research and her goal is to provide key mechanistic insights for HPV-E6 mediated inactivation of hADA3 coactivator protein as an effort towards identifying novel molecular targets against HPV related malignancies. Another research focus of her lab is to study the novel functions of Cytoglobin (CYGB), an emerging member of tumour suppressor family. This study is directed towards development of therapeutic strategies against cancers like head and neck, lung, breast and ovarian cancers where downregulation of Cygb has been reported. She is also investigating the role of the crucial cell cycle regulator FOXM1 in oncogenesis and metastasis. The youngest faculty member of the department, Dr. Kateriya is working towards understanding photoreceptor mediated signaling in Algae, pathogenic protozoa and human bacterial pathogens. He is also developing light-sensitive protein tools and nano-device(s) for Cell Biology, Neurosciences and Clinical applications by using inter-disciplinary approaches. As is evident, the department is geared to innovate molecular strategies to combat various human diseases either through biochemical and mechanistic understanding of the disease biology or through development of diagnostics, prophylactics and therapeutics.
The department witnessed new developments in 2014 and in the subsequent years. Prof. Tyagi was offered the position of Vice Chancellor of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, a moment of great pride for the department. Two new talented faculties joined the department – Dr. Amita Gupta as Associate Professor and Dr. Garima Khare as Assistant Professor. They strengthened the ongoing research on tuberculosis in the department. Unfortunately, however, Dr. Suneel Kateriya moved to JNU and the department was a faculty short. By April 2016, Prof. Tyagi superannuated and subsequently Prof. Ghosh superannuated in January 2018. Prof. D.P Sarkar was offered the position of Director of IISER, Mohali in September 2017, bringing glory to the department yet again.
The success in research activities has always kept the department at the forefront of teaching and education. The department boasts of high quality education and research training that it has been imparting over the years. It’s a premiere Biochemistry department in the country, which conducts M.Sc. educational programme and participates in M.Phil. in Biotechnology course along with the other life science departments on campus. The Ph.D. programme also boasts of high quality and accomplishments.
The changing times, the highly competitive biology research, the changing dynamics of teacher-student relationship, the constant requirement of more and more funds keeps the department on its toes to regularly decipher innovative means to stay ahead of the game. The challenges are manifold. The department has moved into a transition phase where some faculties will retire soon while the new faculties are being groomed and lot will depend on how the new crop carry forward the lofty standards of the department and the vision laid down by its founder.
BLAST FROM THE PAST