Marthanda Varma Sankaran Valiathan received his MBBS (1956) from Kerala University and postgraduate training in surgery leading to FRCS and Master's degree in Surgery from the University of Liverpool, UK. Subsequently, he specialized in cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University Hospitals in USA and became a Fellow of the Canadian Royal College in Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery. He received Honorary Doctorates from several universities. He was Professor of Cardiac Surgery and Director during his stay at the Sree Chitra Institute (1974-94) and also served as the first Vice-Chancellor of the Manipal University.
Academic and Research Achievements: At Johns Hopkins, Dr Valiathan worked with Dr Vincent Gott who had discovered the thrombo-resistant property of surfaces coated sequentially with graphite, benzalkonium chloride and heparin (GBH). He carried out detailed studies on prosthetic thrombosis and the GBH surface which was the first biomaterial to be made with wall-bonded heparin for clinical applications. He developed a GBH-coated shunt for resecting aneurysms of the thoracic aorta, which obviated left heart bypass and greatly simplified the procedure. While at the Sree Chitra Institute, he organized a multi-disciplinary group of scientists, engineers and surgeons and successfully developed a biomaterials research programme with emphasis on the development of medical devices. In less than ten years, his group developed and successfully transferred for production a series of high-tech devices such as tilting disc heart valve, oxygenator, blood bag, etc., which laid the foundation for a modern medical devices industry in India. Dr Valiathan and colleagues also pioneered studies on the causation of a tropical cardiomyopathy, endomyocardial fibrosis, and established its cause to be geochemical rather than filarial as had been believed earlier. In the presence of magnesium deficiency in poor children, cerium - the main lanthanide in monazite - was shown to replace magnesium in cardiac muscle and lead to muscle damage and onset of fibrosis. More recently, he has conceptualized and organized several studies on a science initiative in Ayurveda among a network of major institutions across India. These studies in biology take their cues from traditional medicine, such as the genomic basis of doshaprakriti, effect of rasayanas on the genomic stability of neurons and astrocytes in rat brain and on several biological parameters of drosophila. Apart from regular surgical work, he trained over 20 cardiac surgeons, published over 100 scientific papers, three books and several chapters in books.
Other Contributions: Professor Valiathan set up the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology in Thiruvananthapuram, which became an institution of national importance by an Act of Parliament during his tenure. Its tertiary hospital and laboratories for biomedical engineering were instrumental in promoting the joint culture of medicine and technology. As the first Vice-Chancellor of Manipal University, he contributed to its rapid growth including the setting up of a new Life Sciences Centre. He also served on the INSA Council (1991-93). He was INSA's Vice-President (1997-99) and President (2002-04).
Awards and Honours: Professor Valiathan received the prestigious award Padma Vibhushan in 2005. He was bestowed Hunterian Professorship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, RD Birla Award, Om Prakash Bhasin Award, Jawaharlal Nehru Award, Dhanvantari Prize, Aryabhata Medal, JC Bose Medal, GM Modi Award, HK Firodia Award, and Basanti Devi Amir Chand Prize, Dr Samuel P. Asper Award of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Chevalier in the order of ‘palmes academiques’ of the French Government. He was elected Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, National Academy of Sciences (India), Allahabad, National Academy of Medical Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, Royal College of Physicians of London and the American College of Cardiology.