Aided by GVN and IHV, Kerala, India Celebrates Major Milestones to Advance Virus Research

Aided by GVN and IHV, Kerala, India Celebrates Major Milestones to Advance Virus Research

October 6, 2022

During a conference attended by thousands, Dr. Gallo’s Malayalam Language Edition of “Virus Hunting” Was Released


Thousands of students listened to Dr. Robert Gallo’s virtual lecture, “General Reflections on Pandemics and the Importance of the Global Virus Network (GVN),” presented Saturday, August 27, 2022 during Trivandrum Medical College’s Platinum Jubilee celebration at Kerala University of Health Sciences, State of Kerala, India. Dr. Gallo, who is The Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine, Co-Founder & Director of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Co-founder & Chair of the Scientific Leadership Board of GVN, couldn’t attend the conference in-person as planned since he was recovering from COVID-19 and other unexpected commitments arose. As such, Dr. Gallo recruited Anders Vahlne, MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus in clinical virology of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and member of GVN’s Board of Directors to present an in-person lecture, “Present Status of Monkey Pox and Future Challenges.” Dr. Vahlne also serves as the Director for the Karolinska Institute’s GVN Center of Excellence and is the Co-Chair of the GVN’s Taskforce on Long COVID-19. Kerala University and the Karolinska Institute share a fellowship history whereby Indian postdocs traveled to Karolinska to train under their Swedish colleagues.

“I am so pleased I could come and reignite our relationship with Kerala University,” said Dr. Vahlne. “I recall with a smile, our Swedish researchers being very impressed with the students from Kerala, saying the Swedes had much they too could learn from their Indian counterparts. It will be my pleasure to resurrect fellowship opportunities between these two universities, and to other GVN Centers of Excellence and Affiliates, to advance training in global viral threats.”

Virus Hunting: Malayalam Language Edition

During the convention, Kerala State’s Honorable Chief Minister Shri. Pinarayi Vijayan announced the release of the Malayalam translated edition of Dr. Gallo’s book, Virus Hunting: AIDS, Cancer, & The Human Retrovirus: A Story Of Scientific Discovery. Virus Hunting, which has been translated in dozens of languages, was written in the period of 1988-89 and is a story about viruses that relates to Dr. Gallo’s own personal career. Though drafted more than thirty years ago, Dr. Gallo believes that what is written remains true and perhaps will also be useful in thinking about the challenges of the current COVID-19 pandemic as many old lessons from virology of the past continue to be applicable.

In Dr. Gallo’s absence, Ms. Nora Samaranayake, Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland school of Medicine and GVN Senior Advisor on Public Relations, assisted with the book’s launch during the conference. Virus Hunting was translated by Mr. K. Kunhikrishnan, former Director of India’s Public Sector Television Network, and edited by V. Raman Kutty, MD, MPH and Smt. Indira Panicker as the idea and initiative was catalyzed by Madhavan V. Pillai, MD, Senior Advisor to the GVN. Prof. V. Karthikeyan Nair, former Director of the Kerala Institute of Language, and Mr. Shibu Sridhar, Assistant Director of the Institute, purchased the rights from the publishers to translate the book to Malayalam.

Dr. Kunhikrishnan said, “I had translated into Malayalam the famous book, Virus Hunting, an autobiographical writing full of virology, with the zest in which the author, Dr. Robert Gallo, who co-discovered HIV as the cause of AIDS, had written the book. It took me two years to complete the project as the book was full of medical terms, and I hope the translation will be received well by those interested in the subject.”

The translated edition will be available to all students at Kerala University.

Dr. Gallo said, “I hope that the people of India will find the book useful and informative as an example of how medical science is advanced, by my group and the people me and my colleagues interacted with, as well as others that have formed a lot of the basis of modern human virology.”

Institute of Advanced Virology, Trivandrum, Kerala, India

During Dr. Gallo’s 2014 visit to Kerala, he discussed with officials the need to forge public-private partnerships in India and strengthen India’s medical virology programs. Dr. Pillai, aided by M.G. Sarangadharan, PhD, (a longtime colleague of Dr. Gallo), is the catalyst for much of Dr. Gallo’s Indian relations and was instrumental in proposing and establishing the Indian unit of GVN in Kerala as a Government sector undertaking. The idea was fully endorsed by Chief Minister Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan, even before the outbreak of Nipah and later COVID in Kerala, a farsighted initiative 6 years after the co-founding of the GVN in 2011. Since then, in 2019 the Government of Kerala, supported and guided by the GVN and the IHV, through in particular, Dr. Pillai; William Hall, MD, PhD, GVN Co-Founder, Board of Directors member and Director of the Center of Excellence at University College Dublin; and Shyam Kottilil, MBBS, PhD, Director of Clinical Care and Research at the IHV and GVN Senior Advisor; established the Institute of Advanced Virology (IAV) in the Bio 360 Life Sciences Park in Thonnakkal, Trivandrum. Dr. Hall has been instrumental in working with IAV to garner its GVN Affiliate status through two GVN Centers of Excellence including Hokkaido University (HU), Sapporo, Japan and University College, Dublin (UCD), Ireland.

Dr. Hall said, “I have been to IAV twice, and am pleased that the appointment of the new director, with external guidance from Shyam Kottilil and myself, and the new director’s recruitment of seven well-trained scientists, positions IAV to be very successful as it grows. We hope to initiate international training programs in the near future.”

Dr. Vahlne and Ms. Samaranayake toured IAV’s modern laboratories that focus on research, diagnosis, and management of emerging and re-emerging infectious viral diseases. They saw construction for additional buildings to grow IAV’s basic science and translational research capacity and to position IAV as a larger part of the global effort to prevent and control viral infections.

“To think, IAV was an idea back in 2014 when Dr. Gallo and I first visited, and to see all that our colleagues in both the public and private sector have accomplished in eight years, and counting, is an impressive feat,” said Ms. Samaranayake. “We also appreciated meeting government officials, such as the Honorable Chief Minister Shri. Pinarayi Vijayan and supporting earnest efforts to advance science in India.”

AsterMed City, Kochi, Kerala, India

During Dr. Gallo’s 2014 AsterMed City visit, Dr. Gallo and Ms. Samaranayake toured sizable empty buildings and heard about plans from the head of infectious diseases, Anup Warrier, DNB (Med), CIC, CTH, FRCP, FIDSA, MBBS, for a multi-specialty hospital in Kochi. They also met with Azad Moopen,

MBBS, MD, Chairman and Managing Director of Aster DM Healthcare, which he founded in 1987 and is a publicly traded Indian conglomerate health care provider. Dr. Moopen previously donated $100K to the GVN and was a GVN Board of Directors member.

When Dr. Vahlne and Ms. Samaranayake visited the 40-acre waterfront campus in August, they found the hospital to not just be a vital hub for public health in the region, but a significant employer serving more than 2,500 patients a day in the new facilities spanning several buildings. Dr. Vahlne keynoted the inauguration of the grand opening of AsterMed City’s Center for Advanced Diagnostics and Research with “Preparing for the Next Pandemic."

Said Dr. Vahlne, “Many things went wrong from the start in the ongoing COVID pandemic and unfortunately my country Sweden, as compared to our neighboring Nordic countries, is a compelling example of this. The strategy a country will take the first days or maybe weeks in a new pandemic will decide the outcome. Before one knows how the pathogen is transmitted, how to treat the disease and before medicines and vaccines are developed, a precautionary principle should prevail, e.g., a respiratory disease should be considered to be aerosol and asymptomatically transmitted until proven otherwise. Hopefully we will have learned till next time, but I am not over optimistic.”

As AsterMed City continues to grow, with leadership from Dr. Moopen and Dr. Warrier, the IHV and GVN will potentially collaborate and work to advance medical science.