Romesh Wadhwani, IT billionaire and philanthropist, tops up funding to support inStem’s Shanta Wadhwani Centre for Cardiac and Neural Research

By December 1, 2014 No Comments

Romesh and Kathy Wadhwani will inaugurate a new research centre on 25 January 2012 at 1:30pm, in the colonnade of NCBS’s new laboratory building. Tea and snacks will be served at a brief function which will conclude before 2:15pm. All are welcome.
inStem’s Shanta Wadhwani Centre, in memory of Romesh Wadhwani’s late mother, will benefit from generous funds from the Wadhwani Foundation (http://wadhwani-foundation.org) with the likelihood that demonstrated excellence by the centre in the coming five years will elicit continued support. Along with supporting excellence in science, the Wadhwani Foundation has major programs in college-level entrepreneurship, skills colleges, policy initiatives to accelerate economic growth in emerging economies and programmes to support the disabled. Research at the Shanta Wadhwani Centre will be based in inStem’s laboratories at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, TIFR, Bangalore and will focus on the mechanisms underlying stem-cell directed differentiation and cardiomyopathies. It will soon expand to include the neurosciences.

Success in cutting-edge science requires us to be nimble and flexible. The Wadhwani Foundation brings an invaluable icing to the generous cake of support from the Department of Biotechnology to inStem and from the Department of Atomic Energy to NCBS-TIFR. It allows us to put in place the best teams, including fellowships for group leaders, post-docs and students of any nationality to work in our campus, and for our students and postdocs to go elsewhere for collaborations. These fellowships will link NCBS and inStem researchers with their global collaborators working on the cell and molecular biology of cardiac and neural development, disease and regeneration.

The Shanta Wadhwani Centre is the first example of major unconditional research support from a private foundation that our campus has received. Here, Romesh Wadhwani’s support is exemplary: It comes with the broad mandate to assist our scientific goals and with a requirement that we seek to achieve the highest standards of science. We hope that such philanthropy will inspire others to generously support science at our location and elsewhere in the country.

Dr Romesh Wadhwani, an entrepreneur and philanthropist committed to distributing his wealth, founded and led three successful ventures, of which Aspect Development Inc. was sold for over $9 billion. His current business, Symphony Technology Group grew to $2.5 billion in revenue and 15,000 employees in less than a decade. He is the Founder-Chairman of Symphony Technology Group. Dr. Wadhwani graduated with a B.Tech from IIT Bombay and a Ph.D from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

Background on inStem’s programmes

inStem, the Department of Biotechnology-aided Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine is currently in its incubation years, in an expanded campus with TIFR’s National Centre for Biological Sciences. The challenge inStem faces comes from its mission, which is distinct from those of the ‘classical’ cell and molecular biology institutions: “To create a highly cooperative environment that enables scientists and clinicians to work in collaborative teams or clusters. Through such interactions, inStem will create a critical mass to tackle challenging problems that are beyond the scope of the traditional single principal investigator-driven laboratory. inStem will strive to create a think tank environment that encourages innovative experimentation by bringing together experimental biologists and clinicians, chemists, physicists, engineers and computational scientists in a common culture.” This mouthful is a tall-order. The most interesting areas in stem cell and regenerative biology are intensely competitive. An alternative to dealing with this competition is to pioneer new areas of research. Neither is easy, but in today’s India both are tractable paths. inStem grows on a foundation of excellence in the environment of NCBS and Bangalore. Starting group-leaders thus have a fertile intellectual environment in which to grow. Yet, the challenges to develop collaborative efforts across disciplinary boundaries are formidable for those at any stage of their career and far more so for those at the start. Experience is often valuable in collaborative approaches and the new investigators are, naturally, short on experience. As a new institution inStem has attempted to short-circuit the linear process by which group-leaders mature to develop team-driven initiatives. We have done this by putting together several collaborative programmes that involve investigators based here and those in the best laboratories all over the world. It is very important to keep in mind that all these programmes, that can make our growth non-linear, have not been put in place ‘top-down’ but have emerged ‘bottom-up’ from years of collaboration and interaction at NCBS: while giving the appearance of having emerged overnight they (more on all the programmes below) are based on the robust foundation of our scientific history on this campus.

Research at the new Shanta Wadhwani Centre

One major new collaborative programme of inStem, which will be infused to start the Shanta Wadhwani Centre for Cardiac and Neural Research, springs from long-standing interactions with Jim Spudich and his laboratory at Stanford and with the laboratories of Norio Nakatsuji and Aki Kusumi at the iCeMS at the University of Kyoto. Interactions with these leading scientists matured in 2009 -2011 to develop into a cardiomyopathy programme at inStem led by Spudich, one in stem sell biology led by Norio Nakatsuji and a third in single molecule biology led by Aki Kusumi and Jitu Mayor of NCBS. New inStem investigators in these programmes now include Kouichi Hasegawa (technology of induced pluripotent stem cells – IPS- and programmed differentiation), Ken Suzuki (single molecule biology) and John Mercer (cardiomyopathy). They join other inStem investigators who study the programming of differentiation: Jyotsna Dhawan (inStem); Maneesha Inamdar (from JNCASR, adjunct at inStem); Shravanti Rampalli-Deshpande and Dasaradhi Palakodeti (both Wellcome Trust DBT Fellows at inStem) and Ramkumar Sambasivan (a DBT Ramalingaswami fellow at inStem). Discussions are being initiated with investigators, internationally, in neuroscience and with neurobiologists and neural stem cell researchers already working at NCBS and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences to formalize a program in neural stem cell research.

The international composition of the research teams and its distribution between Bangalore, Stanford, Kyoto and the McLaughlin Research Institute (a major mouse laboratory in Montana, USA) offers opportunity for rapid progress towards our goals in cardiac and neural research, if the programme is flexible and managed well: The Wadhwani Foundation support allows us to do just that.

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