JULY 8, 2005 | Kodetthoor Bhaskara Udupa, Ph.D., faced his admiring colleagues and family from the podium and reflected briefly on his improbable journey.
He had come from poverty as a child, traveled to the other side of the world and was about to formally invest the inaugural recipient of the Kodetthoor Bhaskara Udupa Chair of Gerontologic Research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
During the June 23 ceremony, Robert J. Shmookler Reis, D.Phil., was named recipient of the chair endowed by Udupa.
“For a boy walking barefoot in the remote part of India, this achievement was unimaginable,” Udupa said, attributing his good fortune to being in the right place at the right time.
“This has made my journey to the U.S.A. 36 years ago and to Little Rock 25 years ago, worthwhile,” he said.
Both Reis and Udupa joined the UAMS faculty in 1980.
“This is a great event,” said UAMS Chancellor I. Dodd Wilson, M.D. “It’s just one more thing that makes the Institute on Aging and UAMS better.”
Reis is internationally known for pioneering research into molecular genetics of aging and longevity, and he holds three major federal grants.
In his acceptance of the prestigious chair, Reis said he could not resist offering a little unsolicited advice to his grant-seeking colleagues.
“Don’t lose faith in yourselves and don’t be discouraged by occasional harsh reviews,” Reis said. One of his own grants received successive reviews that were in complete disagreement with each other, he added. “This is not a perfect process, but in the end it averages out.”
Reis also urged fellow researchers and scholars to create an environment and support system that can help them succeed.
“Some of the happiest experiences I have had have come from starting journal clubs, creating interest groups, getting people together -- because you never know what will come of that,” Reis said. “It makes the process more fun for all concerned and creates interactions and synergies that make for good science.”
Reis attended Harvard University on a full academic scholarship and earned a doctorate in genetics at the University of Sussex in England, studying under world-renowned geneticist and evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith. He pursued postdoctoral research training at the University of California-San Diego and in the Mammalian Genome Unit at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Reis is a professor in the Donald W. Reynolds Department of Geriatrics and in the departments of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Medicine, and Pharmacology & Toxicology in the UAMS College of Medicine. He is also a Research Career Scientist in the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. Reis is lead investigator on a five-year, $5 million study into metabolic changes related to life span. His research group is working with four organisms to predict longevity in the young of each species.
Udupa is a professor in the Donald W. Reynolds Department of Geriatrics and the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the UAMS College of Medicine. He is now the principal investigator for a multimillion dollar project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Pharmaceutical Research Institute. Udupa’s research is targeted to helping cancer and dialysis patients who must receive frequent injections of the hormone erythropoietin to regulate red blood cell production. Udupa hopes to find a way to reduce the frequency of such injections by keeping the hormone in circulation longer.
An endowed chair is the highest academic honor that can be bestowed by a university on its faculty. A chair can honor the memory of a loved one or may honor a person’s accomplishments. It is supported with designated gifts of $1 million or more.
Udupa established the endowed chair with surplus research contract funds he received over a multi-year period.
Udupa, who helped design the medallion bearing his likeness and which was placed around Reis’ neck during the ceremony, described it for the audience.
On the outer right side is the Sanskrit symbol Om, signifying the universal sound. On the outer left is an hourglass to symbolize time passing in each person’s life. And because the new chair is in gerontologic research, Udupa wanted the medallion to depict the three interrelated causes of aging. Shown in a triangle are the words “genes,” “chance” and “environment.” Below that is the lotus flower, to represent purity of the mind.
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