RYIM Pune: Bringing together medical doctors, life science researchers and public health professionals

Karishma Kaushik

The seventh (and last) of the RYIMs for 2023 – 2024, RYIM Pune was held at Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed to be University Medical College on 16 – 17 February 2024, with a pre-meeting Crafting Your Career (CYC) workshop from IndiaBioscience on 15 February.

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Glimpses from RYIM Pune. Credit: RYIM Pune organisers and Karishma Kaushik.

RYIM Pune was unique for several reasons. The two-day meeting had the distinction of being the only RYIM to be held at a medical college, and with a focus on interdisciplinary medical research brought together medical doctors, life scientists, epidemiologists, students, and researchers under one platform. This diversity of disciplines was also reflected in the organising team: RYIM Pune was led by Shrish Raut, a medical doctor and researcher at Bharati Vidyapeeth Medical College, with co-organisers Dhiraj Dhotre, a scientist at the National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) and Priti Gautam, faculty at the Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences at Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU).

A day before the meeting, I conducted a Crafting Your Career’ (CYC) workshop for a pre-selected group of participants. The participants included students and researchers in public health, biotechnology, and medicine. The workshop started with me talking of the dynamic nature of science careers in the 21st century, after which I shared my own career journey which has seen several professional transitions across medicine, science and science facilitation. At the end of the introduction, I shared one line that sums up my professional choices:

After 20 years in a career that has spanned medicine, science and science facilitation, this is the closest it has ever got to my dream job.

Notably, this was the first time the CYC workshop had been conducted for a large group of medical or allied health professionals, and it was interesting to observe that the career exploration exercises built into the CYC workshop, such as identifying one’s skills, interests and values, and strength mapping of skills, were relevant and well-received by students of medical and public health. 

Day 1 of RYIM Pune started with a keynote talk by Chittaranjan Yajnik, KEM Hospital Research Centre, Pune. He discussed his lifelong work on diabetes mellitus in Indian populations through multi-generational cohort studies, with interesting personal, philosophical and political anecdotes that peppered his research journey. Yajnik holds the distinction of becoming a case study for this own scientific theory, documented in the publication Confessions of a thin-fat Indian’, where both authors (one of them Yajnik) reported the limitations of body-mass index as a measure of adiposity via measurements on themselves. In another interesting anecdote, Yajnik shared the possibility that modern diabetes mellitus in India could be an epigenetic’ footprint of periods of starvation and famine across ancient and/​or modern Indian history, a theory that underpins the less-studied sociopolitical and historical influences on health and disease. 

In another talk on similar lines, Sundeep Salvi from Pulmocare Research and Education (PURE) also brought forth an interesting set of arguments on a modern lifestyle illness, as he discussed the role of cholesterol on heart disease. He shared that beyond binary distinctions such as good and bad cholesterol’ and high and low cholesterol’, the effect of cholesterol on heart disease in Indians might actually be more complex, with recent studies reporting cholesterol levels below a certain threshold might actually increase the risk of heart disease.

RYIM Pune also brought forth several other talks at the intersection of medicine and life science research. In his talk on the human gut microbiome, Dhotre fascinated the attendees with recent data on the role of condiments, spices and savories in shaping the dynamic gut microbiome of Indians, a project led by NCCS with support from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). Interestingly, savories had the most harmful impact on gut microbiota composition, so keeping an eye on your snacking’ might be what both you and your gut need! 

Albeit in a different context, another large-scale national project discussed was the role of clinical trials in HIV prevention and care, with Sheela Godbole, a dermatologist-turned-clinical trialist and Director, Indian Council of Medical Research-National AIDS Research Institute (NARI), Pune, laying out the challenges of building effective and ethical clinical trial structures. In another talk, Vineeta Bal, IISER Pune, also a physician-scientist, discussed her work on vaccines for typhoid fever. 

Gagandeep Kang at RYIM Pune. Credit: RYIM organisers.
Gagandeep Kang at RYIM Pune. Credit: RYIM organisers.

In addition, RYIM Pune held a series of broad talks relevant to doing research in medical settings, which included a session on Identifying research gaps’ by Aditi Apte from KEM Hospital Research Centre and Implementation science in tackling healthcare challenges’ by Sampada Bangar from ICMR-NARI, Pune. 

RYIM also hosted interesting panel discussions on Medical research in clinical practice’ and Integrating and nurturing research culture in medical schools’ which together highlighted the need to inform and educate medical trainees and doctors about research methods while underscoring the need to do so in a meaningful and sustainable manner. As a medical doctor and scientist myself, I was part of these discussions and shared these thoughts:

The mandatory inclusion of research methods in MBBS studies should not be to make doctors do research’ but to facilitate an understanding of the science behind medicine. Further, anything mandatory’ runs the real risk of becoming a sham’.

Possibly the pièce de résistance’ of the meeting were two virtual talks by Gagandeep Kang, currently Director, Global Health at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Raman Gangakhedkar, Former Head of Epidemiology and Communicable Disease at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Both physician-scientists, their contributions and career journeys serve as an exemplar representation of the impact that medical researchers can have in the life science ecosystem in India. As Kang said in her discussion:

Doing something for India … serving India was very strongly driven into me since my childhood.

Taken together, beyond my role as Executive Director, IndiaBioscience, RYIM Pune carried notable significance to me as a professional. As a physician-scientist myself, it was encouraging to see the meeting bring together medical doctors, scientists and epidemiologists in the city where I did my medical training and residency. Incidentally, it was during my residency in Pune that I embarked on a MD thesis research project for which I worked briefly with RYIM co-organiser Dhiraj Dhotre in the laboratory of Yogesh Shouche at NCCS. On that note, here’s to more long-standing connections across medicine and life science research in India!