CANCER INSTITUTE (WIA)
SWEET MEMORIES

Dr. T.G. SAGAR Director, Cancer Institute (WIA)


I had the unique opportunity to join the Institute in 1976 and worked in the Medical Oncology Division (at that time called as Chemotherapy Department). I had the unique privilege of being selected in the first batch of DM Medical Oncology course in 1984. When the Superspeciality courses were started first time in the country, the Institute became famous over night. The young doctors across the country were anxious to qualify as Oncologists at the Institute.


I joined young at the Institute and imbibed the discipline and committed work culture of the founders and hence my study period was very easy unlike others, who have to acclimatize to the new surrounding far away from home. To me and to others, our Advisor and Chairman, Dr. Krishnamurthi and Dr.V. Shanta respectively were the role models, who dedicated their lives to service and science. Institute had given me the rare distinction of being one of the first qualified Medical Oncologist in the country and an opportunity to serve the oncology community in various capacities as a teacher, examiner and a treating physician. I also had the privilege of an international exposure in oncology which had enriched my knowledge. I owe everything to the Institute for what I am and consider it a great honour to be a part of this great institution established by the untiring effort of its founders.


I am sure the Institute will be self reliant under the able stewardship of our Chairman, Dr.V.Shanta, as it is moving towards the Diamond Jubilee in 2014.


A BRIEF GLIMPSE OF THE 25 YEAR STINT IN CANCER INSTITUTE (WIA) - Dr. T. Rajkumar


My first visit to the Cancer Institute (WIA) was in 1979, when as 4th year Medical Students we made a visit to the Institution and were shown around the Old campus (Main Institute) by Dr.V.Shanta. As my interest had always been Oncology, I had pursued MD General Medicine and then sought a job in the Institute in 1985. This time I met Dr.Shanta, who was then the Director of the Institute, in her OP in the Annexe campus. Unfortunately, I was told that they had no vacancies in the Medical Oncology department. It was in March 1986, that I applied for the DM Medical Oncology program and was selected and joined the course.


I remember the first day as a post-graduate, when my senior Dr.Maitreyan, asked me to wait till after 9 am to give the joining letter (as it was a Monday!!!). I remember the first question Dr.T.G.Sagar, then Assistant Professor in Medical Oncology, asked me on the first rounds (was on opsonisation). The two years spent as a Post-graduate was one of learning and hard work. It was clear that unlike a surgical patient who has to be necessarily fit to undergo the major surgical procedure, the patients in Medical Oncology, especially the acute leukemics were quite sick prior to start of the treatment. Once the chemotherapy was administered we had to wait for the toxicity to manifest while supporting the patients with antibiotics and blood components. The analogy was akin to dropping a person into a deep well with a rope around his waist, wait till he was fully immersed and then pull him out. The problem was that the rope broke often. As the years passed the supportive care has been improving enabling more intense chemotherapy to be given, with improvement in the cure rates. After completing my DM, I continued working in the department, particularly the Solid Tumours. The year 88-89 was frustrating, when attempts to engage in some laboratory work were effectively thwarted. It was at that time a few of my seniors asked for my opinion on cases in their hospitals and nursing homes. Thus, I started a consultant practice which covered at one time visiting Hospitals in Alandur (south Madras) to Thiruvottiyur (North Madras). It was in 1990, when we were coming out of the Tumour board, that Advisor made a profound statement. He said "as a Clinician, you may be able to help thousands of patients but as a Researcher you will benefit millions".


The turning point in my career was the award of the Commonwealth Fellowship in 1991, which enabled me to do my PhD in Molecular Oncology in RPMS, Hammersmith Hospital, London. The sheer thrill of working at the frontier of science was exhilarating. I had then decided that I will move over to research and confine my clinical work to areas of interest such as Hereditary cancers and clinical trials which we initiate from the laboratory. On my return back to the Institute in Nov 1994, Advisor and Chairman provided their full support to establish a Molecular Oncology laboratory. The new lab was ready in Jan 1996 and we moved into the lab on 26th Jan 1996.


The first major grant was from DST, followed by grants from DBT and WHO. The establishment of the Hereditary cancer program in 2002 was an important milestone. No less significant was the development of dendritic cell vaccine for the treatment of cervical cancer. The DST in 2007 provided funding for establishing a Centre of Excellence in Molecular Oncology. The 5 year program has helped develop an assay for detection of p16 for early diagnosis of cervical cancer. In addition it has helped identify potential biomarkers for early diagnosis of gastric cancer and helped identify UBE2C as a therapeutic target for cervical and breast cancer. We have also targeted the EWS-FLI1 fusion protein in Ewing's sarcoma and this has shown promise as well and hopefully should be transferred to the clinic.


The DST subsequently provided the largest grant received by the Institute so far (Rs. 3500 Lakhs) for upgrading the facilities for research in cancer biology. This has enabled us to move into the Next Generation Sequencing era for a wide range of applications. It has also helped establish a state of art Proteomics Laboratory for Biomarker discovery. With gradually increasing staff strength in the Department, the output should increase further.


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