Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 8th 2018 Contents 16 UWI TODAY -- SUNDAY 8 APRIL, 2018
In the closing weeks of 2017 it was announced that
Dr. Adesh Ramsubhag, Head of UWI St. Augustine's
Department of Life Sciences, had won an Anthony N. Sabga
Caribbean Award for Excellence. He's not too comfortable
"I don't really like to be in the limelight," he says from
his o ce in the Faculty of Science and Technology. "I nd
refuge in the lab, in a small circle."
Dr. Ramsubhag, 50, is far from the typical introverted
scientist. "I look at it as the Department's award," he says.
He may not like the limelight but he is very willing to
share it. Not only is he quick to point to the contributions
of his departmental colleagues and post-graduate students,
he also stresses the partnerships with the Department of
Chemistry. He highlights the role of past department heads.
He looks back with gratitude at the lecturers and supervisors
that encouraged him. He praises the small community Penal
in which he grew up. He thanks his family.
If Dr. Ramsubhag's circle is small, it is small like the
centre of a spider web. Its tendrils spread in an intricate
pattern of human connection. He values these connections
as much as his academic achievements, his awards, and
the high-value research currently taking place in the Life
Sciences and Chemistry departments.
And well he should, because at the heart of his
accomplishments is a capacity for critical and innovative
thinking. He practices it and unleashes that capacity in
students. is is very valuable to Trinidad and Tobago.
A new hope in natural products
In its June 2017 issue, UWI Today covered promising
research coming out of the Life Sciences and Chemistry
departments related to microorganisms with potential to
become new drugs (https://sta.uwi.edu/uwitoday/archive/
june_2017/article19.asp). Given the enormous biodiversity
in the local soil, Dr. Ramsubhag and the research team
believed the possibility existed for T&T to develop a Cuban-
style pharmaceutical industry based on natural products
that could generate billions in foreign exchange.
Since then the research results have only grown more
promising. One PhD Chemistry student, Tresha Dobson,
isolated nine "bioactive compounds" in several classes from
samples taken from the Pitch Lake. Among the compounds
discovered were some in the same class used to treat
neurological diseases such as Parkinson's and to develop
anaesthetics. is research is currently being published.
The work of post-graduate researcher Antonio
Ramkissoon, highlighted in the UWI Today piece, has
also made dramatic progress. Experimenting on another
compound discovered in Trinidad, it has been found to
enhance the e ectiveness of existing antibiotics. is is
incredibly valuable as new and more powerful viruses
have become resistant to antibiotics. e compound has
undergone in vitro screening and animal testing, and has
now reached the stage of human clinical trials.
"We believe we have completed as much as we can do
in UWI and T&T," says Dr. Ramsubhag. "We have engaged
UWI's business development o ce to get it patented. As
soon as that is completed we will hopefully be starting
negotiations with drug companies to take them to human
With work such as this it is easy to see why he has been
selected for the 2018 Excellence Award.
"His work on microorganisms is producing exciting
results that, if supported by further research, can lead to
the development of pharmaceuticals, an export-driven
industry estimated at a current value of US$1 trillion," reads
a statement from the ANSA McAL Foundation.
Dr. Ramsubhag will receive his award (in the area of
Science and Technology) as well as $500,000 at a ceremony
on May 5. Other laureates include Chevaughn and Noel
Joseph of the Just Because Foundation (Public and Civic
Contributions), Jamaican poet and novelist Professor Kei
Miller (Arts and Letters), and Guyanese businessman
William Boyle (Entrepreneurship).
More teaching, more research
Speaking to Dr. Ramsubhag, the award feels very much
like a marker on a much longer journey. ere's an aura
of great momentum about him and his close colleague,
Professor Jayaraj Jayaraman, a biotechnologist and plant
microbiologist. Together, with limited manpower, space and
equipment, they have managed to mould an environment
where a new generation of young researchers can grow.
Dr. Ramsubhag has decided to not seek another
term as Department Head for the new academic year in
September. Instead he will focus all his energies on teaching
and research. In part this is to meet the growing interest
in microbiology. But it's also a re ection of his interest in
the kind of scientists -- and citizens -- that Trinidad and
"In a modern society the economy is fueled by
innovation," he says. "Research goes with innovation."
And many students need their critical and innovative
capacities unleashed: "Because the education system is
not very conducive to critical thinking, there are inherent
weaknesses in some (not all) students. e ability is there but
because they have been conditioned in this archaic system of
cramming and rote learning, sometimes you have to spend
the time with the student to get them to think outside of
the box. But in almost all cases they are able to do it. And
that's the tragedy of our education system. e potential is
there but we are wasting it."
e Circle of the Web
A man of science, community and the arts
BY JOEL HENRY
Dr. Adesh Ramsubhag congratulates his
student, Antonio Ramkissoon a er his
seminar presentation on March 22.
PHOTOS: BOBBY SOOKHOO
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