Anil Kulkarni, MSc, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Surgery at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, was awarded a highly competitive Fulbright-Nehru Scholarship Award for Academic and Professional Experience to travel to India this fall to teach immunonutrition and functional foods in the global health era.
Fulbright grant recipients are chosen by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, a 12-member group appointed by the president. Grants are made possible through funds appropriated by the U.S. Congress and by contributions from partner countries and the private sector.
"Immunonutrition may be a modern term, but through the ages humans and animals have learned how to maintain and restore good health by modifying food intake that could enhance the body's defense system," Kulkarni explained.
On his Fulbright fellowship, Kulkarni will work with four universities in India: Sikkim Manipal University Institute of Medical Sciences, Amrita University Institute of Medical Sciences in Kochi, Deccan Education Society affiliated Pune' University and its Fergusson College, and Haffkine Institute in Mumbai affiliated with the University of Mumbai.
"The Fulbright fellowship will allow me to teach the discipline in various academic institutions of higher and medical institutions in India and learn more about the state of medical education in this field in India. I will then be able to write and improvise a course curriculum for this neglected and ignored field in U.S. medical schools and health science centers," he explained.
Kulkarni said he first became aware of the impact of health and disease on society as a young boy growing up in rural India.
"Our family was raised on culture of Ayurveda and yoga practice. At that time, my grandfather had a home cottage industry preparing a preserve made with several herbs and spices from markets in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. When taken daily, this preserve would improve physiology by increasing blood cells, stamina, and overall health," he recalled. "I wondered about having a career in medicine, or getting involved in advocacy of proper nutrition and preventive health care. Eventually, I graduated with a Ph.D. degree in Faculty of Medicine from The United Kingdom."
Moving to the United States in 1970 to pursue his education and career, Kulkarni joined the UTHealth Medical School faculty in 1999.
Kulkarni said India is ripe for study and educational opportunity in this field.
"Because of the social and economic inequality in India, public health issues vary widely. The country faces numerous problems arising from poverty; such as malnourishment and infectious diseases, as well as problems in the wealthy; such as, increased incidence of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases," he said. "In the last decade or so India has experienced extraordinary economic growth which has had an alarming impact on the rates of lifestyle diseases; such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and cancer. In the next decade, lifestyle diseases are expected to grow at a faster rate than infectious diseases in India."
As part of his fellowship, one of his goals back home in Houston will be to establish the Center of ImmunonUTrition, which will feature the development of basic and translational curriculum in these specific areas. "This will be first of its kind organization in the world," Kulkarni said. "We will seek collaboration and cooperation from all the medical and educational institutions in the world's largest medical center, the Texas Medical Center."
Kulkarni said immunonutrition has a place in all countries.
"My background and professional experience, for almost last four decades, has convinced me that there is a greater than ever need for immunonutrition education of the society at all levels," he said.
Written by Darla Brown, UTHealth Medical School