After arriving in the United States thirty-two years ago, Dr Kattesh Katti, nanotech scientist at the University of Missouri, and ‘Father of Green Nanotechnology’ has established a very successful career in science, and now he is working hard to give back to the community.
Dr Katti recently acquired a patent for Nano-ayurvedic medicine. This development by Dr Katti has paved the way to bringing about green solutions in the biomedical field. CSP was in conversation with Dr Kattesh Katti on his journey and achievements in the field of Ayurveda and nanotechnology.
How has the scenario with science and research changed from the time you have arrived to today?
I arrived in the USA in 1990, close to 32 years ago. In the thirty plus years that I have been here, I have seen interest jump from one area to another, just to take care of the health needs of the public. When I started, there was emphasis on cancer diagnostics and therapy, not that the others were ignored. Then, there was a sudden shift from going through general medicine to medicine revolving around genomics. People were interested in understanding the human genome which was a very big project that provided us with many answers. From that outcome came personalised medicine. It is not that we have a cure for all diseases but we are beginning.
Now, by drawing blood, one can figure out if the person is prone to diabetes way before it sets in. or even look at the genetic predisposition to breast cancer or glioblastoma. For instance, if someone has a genetic defect for breast cancer, the doctor advises them to have their blood checked every year to make sure that they can diagnose the disease as soon as it sets in.
Now from personalised medicine, there is a shift towards targeted drug delivery. Tiny particles that can penetrate the blood cells or the tumour cells. You can see the progression in medicine from shooting in the dark to precision medicine, by going after genomics. We are also talking about immunomodulation- giving the body the strength to fight the disease.
So, I have seen it all happen, and I am now looking at tiny particles that many believe can be applied to medicine. We are looking at this now because we need to target the specific gene and the specific cell sparing the rest of the body.
How did you enter the world of Ayurveda and why Ayurveda?
It is interesting and serendipitous. Western medical researchers look at a phytochemical from a plant and resynthesises them in the lab. They then look at their efficacy in the lab. The same phytochemical is used in Ayurveda in its natural form. Indeed, the credit should be given to Ayurveda but it is not.
When a chemist synthesizes any metallic nanoparticle, they take a metal precursor like gold or silver salts, to which chemical components are added. A set of chemical reactions take place to form nanoparticles.
That's where it occurred to me that there are plant-based components called antioxidants. They curb the free radicals in the body. That is the connectivity we got. I collaborated with a young Ayurvedic practitioner for 15 years, and in the process unravelled the production of nanoparticles, checked their toxicity studies, studied the tumour efficacy in animals and in humans. This is where Nano-Ayurvedic Medicine was born.
I learnt a lot from Ayurveda and I am working to give back to the field- Dr Kattesh Katti
How easy has it been for you to establish yourself in the US? Can you tell us about the challenges you faced?
All I can tell you is that the United States is one country that has great ideas if you can work hard, and if you are great at your fundamentals. When I was given a job here, they told me my job description and they gave me the investment I needed. I also had to work to receive funding from the government. Now to obtain that we had to show to them that our findings have great value, and they must be published in high-impact journals.
I have received many awards for my work. You do not apply for awards yourself, someone nominates you. I have great students with me now, and the scientific community across the world recognises what I do.
Also, another thing is I consider that my risk taking abilities come from my ancestral background. In 2000, I was funded in radiopharmaceuticals where radioactive probes were used to detect or treat diseases. Following that, I shifted to nanotechnology. People told me that I was doing really well and that I did not have any reason to shift fields. But what I believe is that as scientists, we need to always look at the next big thing. What can help the society more? And nanotechnology was a field that I knew would definitely boom. So, I took the risk, and have shown that it is a field that works, and will be the future for diverse knowledge systems.
In your view, how has the Indian diaspora fared in the field of research in the US and across the world?
Most Indian students do exceptionally well. They are very successful and it is unreal. Even in my group, all my Indian students have done very well and are at top positions now. That's true with the majority of the students who come here.
Having met scientists and researchers from across the world, have you collaborated with anyone who is working in the field of Ayurveda?
Let me tell you a very interesting story. Outside of India and the US, I have collaborated with a doctor in Brazil, Dr Rugey. He is a western medical doctor and the head of internal medicine in Sao Paulo. He woke up one morning and decided to study Ayurveda. He went to India for 5 years, studied in Pune, went back to Brazil, and set up Ayurvedashram. He says that world medicine is all about Ayurveda. I went to his ashram and collaborated with him. In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I sent him Silver nanoparticles to treat patients there. I do not need to convince him about Ayurveda, he is telling the world himself about it.
President APJ Abdul Kalam noticed something about you that you didn't see in yourself. Can you tell us more about that?
President Kalam is an exceptional human being and a scientifically precise person. As a scientist, when he is to speak on a particular topic, he would read up about it and then deliver the talk. When he came to know of our work, he went through our publications, and the news release that we had set up the nanoparticle production facility. In his address, he cited our name. That was a surprise because we had not sent in our abstract nor did we plan to attend that talk.
Subsequently, five years later, at another conference in New Delhi, during the speech in the afternoon, he saw my name in the conference schedule, and asked to meet me. That was thrilling.
Why is reproducibility of drugs in Ayurveda so important? Ayurvedic preparation of drugs is a natural process, like cooking. The same dish might not taste the same each time you prepare it.
Science is all about reproducibility. If an event cannot be reproduced, then a scientific explanation has to be given. In my view, why Ayurveda was facing a hard time to penetrate the global population is because Ayurvedic organisations were not able to reproduce their formulations within the same place or in different centres. Swarna Bhasma from one Ayurvedic industry can show different compositions within two different batches. With varying levels of oxidation and reduction happening, it is difficult to control the parameters and have a uniform composition throughout. If I were to tell the international community that this time the composition stays this way and next time it changes, it will not bode well with them.
For instance, Tylenol produced in India or in South Africa is going to be the same. Cancer drugs, vaccines, everything has to be the same. That, I would say was the missing link in Ayurveda.
In that area, we have done a remarkable job. Reproducibility is embedded in every human being, if they don't see it, they’ll ask questions.
Have you looked into the applications of green nanotechnology in veterinary sciences too?
Veterinary medicine plays an important role in modern medicine. Let us take a look at dogs. Dogs live with us, and eat with us. It has also been observed that when dogs live with smokers, they can be affected with cancer. That is why we are also testing the drug on dogs, and the efficacy we see is a significant study. It is important to study drugs in systems that mimic the human body, and dogs are one such model. Most of us still use mice, but it is borne in mind that cancer in mice does not mimic cancer in humans, but cancer in dogs do. So that is why it is important to bring in the aspect of veterinary sciences in drug research.
The US Patents and Trademarks Office has approved the use of Nano-Ayurvedic Medicine. How long did it take to get this patent approved? Can we consider this as a patent for traditional knowledge (because India does not allow that)? Can you elucidate on this?
Actually, not too long. We did not realise that it was going to be so quick. They saw the rationale behind our request. They knew about this medical modality, and that it has existed for so long in India. When they saw our publications, they saw that we applied nanotechnology to make Ayurvedic drugs more efficacious, and this made the whole process smooth and quick.
The acronym ‘Nano-Ayurvedic Medicine’ is mostly about science. They must recognise the principles of nanotechnology in Ayurveda to help the field. We are here to promote the field, and to help the patient population. Patients must always be at the focal point of our research. So this term Nano-Ayurvedic Medicine gives a scientific armamentarium to Ayurveda.
To read more about Dr Katti’s work on Nano-Ayurveda: Dr Kattesh Katti's Nano-Ayurvedic Medicine