Nutrition & Biochemical Sciences for the Benefit of Mankind

The first anniversary of the death of Professor Kamaluddin Ahmad, the internationally known scientist who founded the study of biochemistry and nutrition in Bangladesh, was commemorated on 4 July. Prof. Ahmad had a long association with ICDDR,B. He had been a member of the Research Review Committee since 1990, a previous chair of the Ethical Review Committee, and recipient of the Host Country Award at the 10   th ASCODD 2003 .

To mark this anniversary, the Centre and the Professor Kamaluddin Ahmad Trust joined together to sponsor a two-day symposium 'Professor Kamaluddin Ahmad: Creating and Translating Nutrition and Biochemical Sciences for the Benefit of Mankind.' The programme for the two days is available on the Department of Biochemistry website . Professor Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed, the Hon'ble President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, was the chief guest at the inaugural session of the symposium held on 3 July at the Dhaka Sheraton Hotel. The Hon'ble President praised Prof Ahmads contributions, especially his untiring efforts in carrying out research and building institutions. Dr. M. Osman Farruk, the Minister for Education, spoke about the lifetime achievements of the renowned scientist. Professor Irwin H. Rosenberg, Jean Mayer Professor of Nutrition and former Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University and Vice President of the International Nutrition Foundation made the keynote address. A number of internationally renowned researchers, including Dr. William B. Greenough III, Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and Director of ICDDR,B from 1979 to1985, and Dr. Marshall Larry Reiner from the Boston Children's Hospital at Harvard University, also spoke on the occasion. Dr Charles Larson, Director, Health Systems and Infectious Diseases, ICDDR,B, delivered the vote of thanks.

On 4 July, a series of scientific sessions at ICDDR,B brought together a number of national and international scientists to highlight several areas of professional interest to Professor Kamaluddin Ahmad. Presided over by Dr David Sack, Executive Director of ICDDR,B, the session was graced by the presence of Dr. M. Osman Farruk, the Minister for Education, as the Chief Guest. Panel discussions centred on three topics: 1. Challenges to building and sustaining research institutions in developing countries; 2. Micronutrient deficiencies What do we know? What should we do? and 3. Living the Kamaluddin Ahmad legacy: the role of the scientist in serving humanity. Speakers at the panel discussions included Dr. Naiyyum Chowdhury, Secretary of the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences, Dr. William B. Greenough III, Dr Mushtaque Chowdhury, Deputy Executive Director of BRAC and Dean of the James P. Grant School of Public Health, Professor Harun KM Yusuf and Professor Anwar Hossain of the Department of Biochemistry, Dhaka University, Professor Mamunar Rashid, former Director of NIPSOM, Dr Charles Larson of ICDDR,B, Dr Zeba Mahmud of the Micronutrient Initiative, and Mr Nazir Ahmad, son of Prof Ahmad.

The pioneering work of Prof Ahmad in the early 60s exposed the huge magnitude of vitamin A deficiency in the country and helped in the implementation of control measures. Although the extent of micronutrient malnutrition, particularly vitamin A, iron and iodine deficiency has decreased over the last decades, a lot still remains to be done.

Professor Kamaluddin Ahmad retired as Professor of Biochemistry and Director of the at the University of Dhaka. He came to be known best as the founder of the departments of biochemistry and pharmacy and the Nutrition Institute at Dhaka University . He also served as Vice Chancellor of the Bangladesh Agriculture University , Dean of the Faculty of Science at Dhaka University and President of the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences . He was elected as the first General President of the Bangladesh Association for the Advancement of Science. He was elected a Fellow of the Third World Academy of Sciences based in Trieste, Italy.

As a young scientist freshly returned from graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he attracted national attention in the early 1950s for the discovery of Ramnacin the first crystalline antibiotic from the Indian subcontinent (Ahmad K, Islam MF. Ramnacin: a new antibiotic from a Streptomyces sp. Nature. 1955 Oct 1;176(4483):646-7). Throughout his career he continued to break new ground in research. He discovered the physiological role of vitamin C in the prevention of and in the course of that research became also the first person to produce experimental lathyrism in animals (Kabir Y, Ahmad K. Protective role of vitamin C against neurolathyrism in guinea pigs. J Pak Med Assoc. 1985 Jan;35(1):2-5; Jahan K, Ahmad K. Studies on neurolathyrism. Environ Res. 1993 Feb;60(2):259-66. PubMed ). He also discovered that vitamin C could counter the toxicity of monosodium glutamate (MSG). He was the first scientist to demonstrate that vitamin E prevents fatty liver, a condition that then turns into cancer induced by aflatoxin. He identified that vitamin A deficiency as a key predisposing factor in the aetiology of nutritional anaemia. In the period immediately prior to his death, Dr. Ahmad was conducting research on arsenic mitigation in humans. He made a simple but original observation that in human body arsenic accumulates in hair and in nails and he began to study how hair and nails acted as a sponge in the body for the lethal arsenic. Just prior to his death he had initiated field trials of a promising new therapy derived from hair extracts from mitigating chronic arsenic poisoning a work that sadly remains unfinished.

A commemorative collection of articles honouring Professor Kamal written by his students, colleagues, and family members was also released on this occasion.