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Doyen of Nutrition research Colathur Gopalan no more

Somasekhar M Hyderabad | Updated on October 03, 2019 Published on October 03, 2019

Dr Colathur Gopalan

Colathur Gopalan, the doyen of nutrition research in India, who lived a hundred years with remarkable contributions, passed away on Thursday morning in Chennai. In a strange coincidence, Gopalan and the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), of which he was the founder director, celebrated their centenary in 2018.

Born on November 29, 1918 in Salem, Tamil Nadu Gopalan is survived by his son, Sharath Gopalan, and daughter Malini, with whom he was staying the last few years. He breathed his last following age-related complications in the early hours of Thursday.

Gopalan, who hailed from a middle-class family, studied at the Madras Christian College School. His father was in the Police service.

After earning an MBBS from Madras Medical College and MD from Madras University, he began his career with the Nutrition Research Laboratory (NRL), which started as a small laboratory in Coonoor in 1918 as part of the Pasteur Institute. NRL was moved to Hyderabad in the late 1950s and Gopalan became its first Director in 1962. In 1969, as part of its golden jubilee, it was renamed as NIN.

Under his stewardship, NIN grew in repute, expanded and flourished. Many facilities such as the animal lab, museum, research, toxicology, training etc were established.

Blazing a trail

A Padma Bhushan and fellow of the Royal Society of London, Gopalan made path-breaking contributions in his seven decade long career. The present Nutritive Value of India Foods index is his brainchild. The first edition was brought out with a food sample analyses of 500-plus Indian foods.

Gopalan rose to become the Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) from 1973-79. During this period, he was instrumental in the launch of three national institutes — Malaria, Leprosy and Vector Control research. He left a lasting impression on the NIN, which he led from 1962-73.

Among the ground-breaking research efforts he led in the nutrition arena were a study of protein-energy malnutrition problems, including Kwashiorker and Marasmus, which were major problems. Similarly, he played a key role in tackling nutritional-deficiency diseases such as Beri Beri (vitamin B1 deficiency) and Pellagra, which have been largely contained over the years.

He started the Nutrition Foundation of India (NFI) in 1980, which has emerged as a strong body to promote nutrition. His contributions also were felt in South Asian nations. He also forged the Fraternity of Asian nutrition scientists, which led to the formation of the Federation of Asian Nutrition Societies (FANS).

For several decades and into his early 90s, the presence of Gopalan in most important nutrition-related events across the country was common.

“He not only built institutes, but also leaders in the field across the world”, recalled Mahtab Bamji, a former Director of the NIN, who worked with him from 1965, “He wore his heart on his sleeve. Quick tempered but amicable. A straight forward person”.

“The outstanding thing about Gopalan from being brilliant and full of ideas was he gave a free hand to people to think and work. He never put his name on scientific papers without contributions and just because he was Director,” she recalled.

His contributions to medical science in general and nutrition science in particular are immense. He in fact brought nutrition centrestage and was instrumental in putting it as an important driver in the developmental plans and policies of the country”, said Balram Bhargava, Secretary, Department of Health Research (DHR) and DG, ICMR.

In her condolence message the present director of NIN, R Hemalatha, said: “NIN today bears testimony to his genius as an architect and father of nutrition sciences in India. Research under his leadership formed the basis of major national nutrition programmes initiated in the 1970s — ICDS, Massive Dose Vitamin-A and Iron supplementation”.

Gopalan, won every notable award, was a member of the three Indian Science Academies as well as the Third World Academy of Sciences.

Published on October 03, 2019
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