Scientist, author and mentor Professor Sharad Kumar has been awarded AM, Member of the Order of Australia in the General Division, for his “significant service to medical research in the field of cancer and cell biology”.
Speaking to SBS Punjabi he said, “I’m very privileged and honoured to receive this. I feel very proud and humbled.”
“Although these awards are given to one person, but there is always a team that works behind the scenes with the person who receives the award. I’m very conscious of that and extremely grateful too.”
Born and brought up in the city of Moradabad in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Prof Kumar came to Australia in 1980 as a PhD student.
“There were hardly any people of Indian origin in Adelaide at that time. I completed my Post-doctoral studies in Brisbane, then went to Victoria for a while followed by a stint in Japan for 5 years.”
“I’ve been back in Adelaide for 23 years now and this has been a very productive time for me professionally and personally.”
Professor Kumar is currently Co-Director at the Centre for Cancer Biology, and Chair of Cancer Biology & Research Professor of Cell Biology at the University of South Australia.
Talking about his research, Prof Kumar said, “I’ve always been deeply interested in learning more about how cells within our body divide, survive and die.”
“You know, there are 36 trillion cells in a human body, of which many millions die everyday, because they are infected or damaged. This is how the body keeps itself healthy.”
“If damaged cells survive, they can cause immense harm to the body. And that is what cancer is - overproliferation of cells. So my area of interest is to find out how this happens at molecular and genetic level – why do cells die and why do they live.”
“My research has looked at proteins and genes responsible for cell death and cell survival – and this is the fundamental knowledge that is used by other researchers to come up with new treatments, medicines and more.”
“Simplistically speaking, my work is fundamental discovery type of research, which other researchers use and take to the next level.”
Asked if cancer has become far more prevalent in the world today, Prof Kumar said, “It is probably more noticeable because of our larger population size, and because we tend to live longer.”
If you look at the statistics put out by Cancer Council of Australia, you will see that prevalence of cancer has been fairly steady over the last 20 years. In fact, the five-year survival rate has also increased.”
“But it is being diagnosed much earlier and people tend to live longer. By the way statistics also tells us that prevalence of cancer goes up in the age group 70 -74.”
“Additionally, there are environmental factors as well, especially in third world countries where there is contamination in the food chain.”
Talking about the significance of receiving this honour on January 26, Professor Kumar said, “I couldn’t be more delighted!”
“Last year a friend of mine received an honour on Queens’ Birthday and I casually said, that if I were ever to receive a national honour, it would be wonderful to receive it on January 26, because it has so many meanings for us.”
“Of course its Australia Day, and it’s a privilege to be get an award from the country you’ve adopted, but it's also India’s Republic Day, so this makes the award doubly special because both of those connections come together on a day like this.”
Professor Kumar added, “We’ve made the choice to live in another country, and with that comes a great responsibility as citizens of the country we call home. We try to keep our identities but we also have an obligation to our new home. At the end of the day, it's about becoming a part of the community we live in.”
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