British Indian scientist and clinician Prof Prokar Dasgupta has been conferred the Padma Shri Award 2022 by the President of India.
iGlobal catches up with the high-achiever, whose career span of 30 years has been dedicated to innovative research aiding critical health problems and finding ingenious solutions in surgery. He is the Chair in Robotic Surgery and Urological Innovation in King’s College London. In 2010 and 2018, he was named one of the top ten prostate cancer surgeons in the United Kingdom by the Daily Mail.
Notably, Professor Dasgupta is also credited with describing an innovative technique of injecting Botulinum toxin (Botox) with a flexible telescope to target bladder nerves, a method named after him and helped millions of patients suffering from overactive bladder problems worldwide. He has been a Trustee and raised funds for several charities, including The Prostate Cancer Research Centre, UK and The Prostate Cancer Foundation in Kolkata, India.
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In this interview, Prof Dasgupta reflects on receiving the prestigious award, his journey that led him to it and his continued mission to fight against diseases.
Tell us a little about your roots in India.
I was born in Rourkela, a beautiful Steel City and studied in St. Paul’s School. We had a fantastic reunion a few years ago. Some of my fondest memories are from my childhood. Part of it was spent in Lucknow, my mother’s ancestral home city. An important place in Northern India, Lucknow was the seat of the Nawabs, who built many magnificent palaces. Above all, I remember many hours perched on the rooftop of our home in the old town, flying kites with my family.
Please give us an overview of your early life and career in India.
I received my medical degree from Medical College Calcutta in 1989, the oldest medical school in the East.
My scientific career started when I began studying the immunology of leishmaniasis caused by a parasite. This was closely related to the effect of splenectomy to save the lives of drug-resistant patients. So, it was not difficult to transition from surgical science to the sub-speciality of urology. Around this time, one of my role models brought a Dornier lithotripter to Kolkata, India, to break kidney stones; this was a game-changer as it avoided open kidney stone surgery in most patients, including some members of my own family. It became clear that urology was a fascinating surgical speciality, and I was inspired to take it up.
I decided to pursue my career in the UK, where I completed a research doctorate at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queens Square, London, followed by specialist training in Urology at Guy’s Hospital and the Institute of Urology in London.
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How does it feel to be awarded the third-highest civilian award from the country of your birth?
It is a great privilege to receive the Padma Shri award for distinguished services to medicine. I would like to extend my gratitude to my colleagues across King’s Health Partners, a leading Academic Health Sciences Centre that enables clinical academic collaboration across southeast London. Through our new Academic Surgery programme, we have helped facilitate fantastic surgical science collaborations that benefit patients’ lives in London and beyond. We have a duty to share our partner’s expertise, insight and goodwill with others, and so I very much look forward to continuing working closely with our colleagues in India over the coming years.
What has motivated you in your work the most?
My grandfather was a doctor, and I always looked up to him. While in medical school, I really wanted to study immunology at Harvard, but my prevailing thought was about the “hands of a surgeon”, which nudged me gently in that direction.
I have three simple principles that motivate me –
-Never be afraid to dream big
-Always do your best without worrying about outcomes
-Always support and learn from others around you
I mentioned these principles in a BBC documentary entitled “A Day In My Life” many years ago and stated that I organise my life using a paper diary (still do) to much laughter from my colleagues!!
Please take us through the ‘Dasgupta Technique’ that you invented?
This was developed nearly 20 years ago in collaboration with Prof Clare Fowler at Queen Square. An overactive bladder affects eight million people in the UK alone. We conducted the first clinical trials involving a new surgical technique for micro-injecting botulinum toxin-A directly into the bladder with a flexible cystoscope to suppress nerve fibres and improve bladder control.
Botulinum toxin-A therapy is more cost-effective and less invasive than many other overactive bladder treatments. The beneficial effect to the patient is maintained for many years. It has improved the quality of life of millions of people around the world.
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What were the main benefits of robotics and augmented reality in surgery during Covid-19?
At the height of the pandemic, our surgical output dropped by around 80%. Thankfully, many of the patients with prostate cancer could be managed with hormonal treatment without affecting their final outcomes. Very few of our patients came to see us face-to-face, so we had to rapidly learn the art of teleconsultation. It affected our trainees and students and we tried to reduce that effect through simulation, webinars, and remote learning using augmented reality. We also published guidelines on safe robotic surgery from the European Association of Urology Robotic Urology Section and our own outcomes on over 600 patients during the first wave with a mortality rate of 0.2%.
What do you consider the highest point of your career so far?
I think it would be difficult to pinpoint one single high point during my career. There are many things I am proud of and worth highlighting, including:
The study of C-fibres in the overactive human bladder.
The introduction of modern robotics particularly with regard to prostate cancer.
The establishment of the Prostate Cancer Research Centre at King’s College London.
Editing the British Journal of Urology International for 8 years. We brought innovative design, artificial intelligence, and a new open-access platform to the family of journals.
Helping to bring the Life Lines project to the AIIMS hospital in Rishikesh, India. The project was originally created in the UK to allow relatives to see and speak to their loved ones via a tablet using the secure online platform, ‘aTouchAway’. As India’s Covid-19 crisis hit, I worked with colleagues across King’s Health Partners to rapidly develop and implement the same technology to connect with India’s clinicians on the frontline.
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Please tell us about your ongoing research or focus right now?
My focus will be on surgical data science to make a real difference to patient outcomes and the training of the next generation of surgeons. This involves using various methods such as video labelling, image guidance, haptics, 3D volumetrics, flexible systems, augmented reality and machine learning. With our industry partners, we have also pioneered ultra-low latency communication in robotic surgery with the “Internet of Skills”.
How do you unwind after a long day at work?
I am a tennis fanatic and love watching Roger Federer play. I have successfully completed a number of marathons and happen to be a reasonable cook.