Archive for September, 2008


Aurolab and exhibitions

Sep 28, 2008 in Uncategorized

Dr. V's quoteLast week I went with some friends to an “exhibition.” It was basically a carnival with rides that inspire fear, and not because of the heights or speeds involved! There was a Ferris wheel that moved FAST! The interesting part was that there was a Disney-like tour through a manufactured mountain that featured Indian gods and goddesses made of a paper mache like material. At the top of the mountain there was an Arklike building which housed a very important god, lingua. Apparently it represents a part of Shiva’s power, and perhaps some anatomy that you’ll have to look up for yourself if you are interested… but basically it is a frozen figure that resembles a thimble to my western eyes (see pictures below). We also went to melody night (Friday) in the Aravind auditorium, a weekly display of traditional Indian music.

This week I also made a visit to Aurolab, a fifteen minute drive from central Madurai.  Dr. Senthil Kumari, the Ocular Pharmacologist in our lab offered to take me for a tour on Saturday morning. Aurolab is where all of the intraocular lenses (IOL) for use at Aravind are manufactured. They also export their products to over 80 countries. The price per intraocular lens is $2 (compared to the $150 medicare will pay for a standard IOL in the USA) and over 4,000 lenses are produced each day. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside. I did get to see every step of making IOL and the other products of Aurolab. They also make scalpels, pharmaceuticals, and needles with sutures. The facility was impressive for its large scale and attention to detail. People there were also happy to give explanations and answer questions.

Next week is the inauguration of the new research building at Aravind. The lab will move over there (across the street) shortly. This past week everyone in the lab has been working extra hours to make posters and prepare for the event, which will include an appearance of the ex-President (2002-07) of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. He is a physicist and known as the Missile Man because he jump started India’ rocket programs. Stay tuned!


Research takes patience, and so do Indian weddings.

Sep 20, 2008 in Uncategorized

Things have begun to pick up with my stem cell project. This week I dissected my first limbus and identified a set of stem cells with an immunostaining procedure. Maybe its freshman luck, but I’m happy that my first experiment was a success! If you wonder where my experimental tissues comes from, they are the byproducts from generously donated eyes. We get two types of tissues, limbal rings, which consist of a portion of the peripheral cornea and a few millimeters of sclera, and full globes. The ring is basically what is left over from a corneal transplant, when an ophthalmologist removes the central cornea to restore the vision of another patient. The globes are whole eyes that were removed and deemed, for one reason or another, unsuitable for transplantation purposes.

In the department adjacent to the stem cell lab is the Rotary International Eye Bank. A sign in the hallway gives the statistic that over 12,000 eyes were “harvested” last year, and over 5,000 corneal transplantation were preformed at Aravind. The eye has to be surgically removed within 6 hours of death, and we usually see them in the lab within 24 hours.

On a more social note, my coworker on the stem cell project, Vaishali, invited some us over to her cousin’s wedding. We couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see how south Indian Brahmins tie the knot, literally! They are considered married only after the groom ties a knot around the brides neck, there may be rings too, but I didn’t notice. To be honest, I didn’t understand about 90% of the ceremonies, but I gathered a few impressions and here there… First of all, this is not a one day ordeal, a minimum of two days are involved. The reception is held the evening before the wedding, and the bride and groom arrive via horse drawn carriage that evening. The puja, or ritual involving food and prayers, is performed by several priests who sit onstage with the bride, groom, and several relatives during the ceremony.

The puja is basically chanting and burning a wood fire on bricks, which are decorated by the priests who draw symbols on them, in the middle of the stage, this fills the room with smoke and “purifies” it. Per usual south Indian dress, the women are all dressed in color full saris, and unlike an American wedding, there are no groomsmen or brides maids. A meal placed on banana leaves was provided before and after the ceremonies, no utensils available. I’m getting used to eating with my hands, hopefully not so much that I forget the knife and fork when I get home! Hahaha.



Day to day in Madurai

Sep 12, 2008 in Uncategorized

Aravind Eye HospitalAs of this writing, I have stayed in the Aravind Post Graduate Hostel for a little over two weeks. I started work in the lab the day after I arrived and have spent my time reading journals, getting acquainted with the procedures I will use for my research, and meeting my lab mates. As for the accommodations, I really can’t complain as I have my own room with an attached bathroom, which comes with a bucket, western style toilet, “shower,” and sink. About half thetime the water from the shower is warmish (if you remember to turn the heater on a few minutes before hand). I am beginning to think that I may have been pampered with my hot showers and western style toilets… they will give you toilet paper in the hostel, if you ask for it or look like a foreigner! Hahaha.

My room in the hostel is pretty basic. A metal desk and chair, with a single bed. There is also a storage unit that can be locked up and a fan. Its There are some mosquitoes that make their way into my room at night, but really there are not as many as I  expected. I haven’t gotten any fevers yet and have been taking my malaria prophylaxis. The weather has been nice so far, it doesn’t rain much, and the temperature is hot but tolerable. Apparently it starts getting really hot around February and March. Until I can live without AC. I looked at a couple of apartments today and hope to have my own place in the near future. As for now, I figured that maybe it would be nice to show a few pictures around Aravind, the lab, and the hostel.

The lab has an impressive amount of equipment, even compared to laboratories I worked in back in the United States. I started cell culture work and isolating stem cells this week. I began work with immunostaining as well, but I’ll elaborate more on the research when it is really in motion, but for now the ball has begun rolling…

One of the things that I love about India, other than the people!, is the food. I think if you weren’t into spice then you couldn’t make it here, as it is in breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A couple of “adjustments” have included: eating with my hands, and constant horn honking from autorickshaws, buses, and the sea of motorcycles. The bus rides are true insanity. People hang on for dear life, hop on and off the bus with no consideration of whether it has stopped or not, that seems inconsequential here, but it is taboo to sit next to a woman who is not your wife, even if its the only seat! I actually don’t remember seeing a knife or fork since I arrived in India… There are spoons, but I feel like less of a foreigner if I just dig in! Hahaha. Well, the fact that I am a tall white guy makes me stand out anyway, especially in southern India where the people are darker and shorter than other parts.

The best way to get away from reality for awhile around here is to go for a movie, and I’ve been to two of them in two weeks. They cost 50 rupees each, which translates into about $1.25. In fact, almost everything is cheap here. The hostel, with meals is about 2000 rupees per month, or less than $50 to you and me! I guess that’s how more than half of the country can survive on less than $2 per day… Back to the movies, I have been to one Tamil and one Hindi movie. Obviously its a little difficult for me to understand, but every so often the actors use a few lines in English, and the company is good, so I can’t complain. Although… the power did go out for about 30 seconds during each film, which was interesting and involved a lot of yelling by the audience (not the first time they were inspired to make noise, hahaha). It seems that at least a portion of Indian movies consist of musical/music video type scenes. Oh yeah, and in the “love” scenes they never touch lips but spend plenty of time dancing around the subject!