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Doctor to Nagpur, heart attack detective to the rest

india Updated: Feb 05, 2007 05:30 IST

The Government Medical College (GMC) in Nagpur may sound like an unlikely address for research on lifestyle disease trends and solutions to mysterious diseases that even puzzle World Health Organisation officials. But it is here that Dr Prashant Joshi worked as lead author of a recent magnum opus by researchers in 52 nations who spent five years analysing reams of data to find evidence why heart attacks strike younger Indians.

“Around 80 per cent heart attacks can be prevented with healthy lifestyle,” said Joshi, who conducts his research at the GMC.

This correspondent met Joshi while he presented his latest findings on heart attacks to doctors and representatives of pharmaceutical companies on Saturday. He explained his rationale for conducting the study thus: “Heart attacks are increasing, and people had begun speculating the condition could be genetic. I wanted to know why it is so common.”

In 2004, while he was still in the midst of this study, a mystery disease transmitted among rats struck a cattle farmer in nearby Chandrapur. Dr. Joshi led the diagnosis of the farmer’s disease — trypanosomiasis — and the farmer made history as the first human reported to have the disease.

Yet, for all his research, Dr Joshi does not work out of a laboratory. “I see patients. That is where my study comes from,” he said. And so, for 21 years, the man with a Masters degree in clinical epidemiology and an MD in medicine has worked in Nagpur, seeing patients and using the experience from his practice to better understand illnesses. He has published 100 research papers, 30 of which have appeared in international publications.

How does he juggle begin a doctor and a researcher at the same time? “It is difficult,” he admitted, “but it is possible in a government set-up.”