Postcard: Celebrating a research and capacity building partnership in India

Prof Tom Solomon celebrates NIMHANS MoU

20 years ago, I started working with an amazing place, the National Institute of Mental Health and NeuroScience (NIMHANS), in Bengaluru, India. It is a cutting-edge university and hospital focused on the brain, serving an enormous population in this most fascinating of countries

My work began in 2002 when I collaborated with the neurovirologist Dr V Ravi to tackle the issue of Japanese encephalitis, an emerging infectious disease of the brain, that is spread from animals to humans by mosquitoes. With funding from Wellcome, Medical Research Council and the Gates Foundation, and collaboration with the Indian Government, WHO and many other partners, our research supported the development and roll-out of a major vaccination programme against the disease. It is with great pride that we can say our work has had a profound impact on global healthcare – saving more than since 200,000 lives.

Ravi and I became great friends over the years, and when I became Director of the University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health in 2010, and he became NIMHANS Registrar soon after, we decided to develop a wider partnership between Liverpool and NIMHANS, with two additional research themes. From 2014, Maternal and Child Mental Health has been led at Liverpool by Professor Helen Sharp and at NIMHANS by Professor Prabha Chandra. More recently our collaborative activity has extended to include a Neuro-imaging and Epilepsy Theme led by Professor Simon Keller at Liverpool, and Sanjib Sinha at NIMHANS. Our work on Brain Infections has also gone  from strength to strength, led now by Dr Lance Turtle at Liverpool and Dr Netravathi M at NIMHANS.

My pride as an Olympic Torch bearer in 2012 was matched only by Ravi’s pride as Rector carrying the NIMHANS ceremonial mace; and as he likes to point out, his was much bigger than mine.

From 2016 the partnership was underpinned by a dual PhD programme which allows students in Liverpool or Bengaluru to spend their first year in their home country, the middle two years overseas, and the final year back at home. This programme has now  benefited from a fabulous donation of £1.5million from the Pratiksha Trust –  made on behalf of its founder, Mr Kris Gopalakrishnan. The programme has clearly achieved lots in terms of research income, capacity building, cultural exchange, and impacts. However, Ravi and I always felt that the true success of such initiatives is that they succeed beyond those who founded them – we have seen too many fail beyond this critical juncture. However, with this funding secured for the next five years, this seems like the right moment to step back and allow new programme leads Helen Sharp and Anita Mahadevan to take the reins.

I was delighted (perhaps too delighted, see top photo) to see the new programme launched recently at NIMHANS by the Director, Pratima Murthy, along with University of Liverpool’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof Tim Jones, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research & Impact, Prof Anthony Hollander, and Mr Gopalakrishnan himself. Behind the scenes the University’s Neil Blake, Keith Huckle, along with David McVey and Matt Kayoka-IIunga, and their Indian counterparts worked tirelessly and brilliantly over the last three months, to ensure everything was ready in time for us to sign.

International programmes are never straightforward, but I have learnt it is well worth every bit of effort. My friendship with Ravi has seen us through many professional and personal highs and lows over the last 20 years and I don’t think we have changed a bit (see below) – do you?!