Araga Ramesha Rao obtained BSc (Hons) and MSc from Karnataka University and earned two gold medals being the University topper in both the examinations. He had received 27 merit-based academic awards. He obtained PhD from Rajasthan University while working on `the effect of ionizing radiation on male and female reproductive physiology of mammals’. Thereafter, he did postdoctoral research in cancer biology at the Brookhaven National Laboratory Medical Center, USA for which he received the prestigious Fogarty International Postdoctoral NIH Fellowship. On his return to India, he worked at Cancer Research Institute, Tata Memorial Hospital at Mumbai for a short period; then moved to the School of Life Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, and served as Chief of its Cancer Biology Laboratory until his retirement in 2002. He was also Dean, School of Life Sciences for a brief period, and Emeritus Scientist at JNU.
Academic & Research Achievements: Rao is the first one in the country to start `cancer biology course’ in a university system at MSc level as early as in 1976. He demonstrated that neutron and X- ray radiation differ considerably in eliciting mammary carcinogenesis by using 32P, 60Co and 45Ca radioisotopes, and camphor and gonadotropin. His group has revealed the genotoxic, carcinogenic, embryotoxic and immunotoxic actions of arecanut’s unprocessed and ripened varieties. His findings at JNU have established the epidemiological claim that tobacco smoking and chewing habits synergistically enhance the risk of oral cancer. Hyperinsulinism maintained during the phase of initiation of DMBA-induced mammary carcinogenesis reduces the incidence, but during the phase of promotion would increase the incidence of the tumors. An inhibitory effect of caffeine on the incidence of benign mammary fibroadenoma and benign mammary cysts was reported. The chemopreventive efficacy of garlic, asparagus, mace and nutmeg, sandalwood oil, ocimum, aloe and many other edible/herbal plants was reported for the first time from his laboratory. Combination chemopreventive strategies were successfully experimented. The paradoxical actions of OC pills like Noracycline and Overal in MCA-induced cervical carcinogenesis were demonstrated. The essential oils from nutmeg, ginger, cardamom and others were found to inhibit the formation of aflatoxin B1-DNA adducts. He had published more than 150 research papers and one popular book on cancer in both Kannada and English. He had mentored 11 MPhil and 29 PhD students.
Other Contributions: Professor Rao established Cancer Biology Laboratory in JNU as one of the leading research centres for cancer chemoprevention studies in India, and established broad spectrum of bioassay model systems, including short-term assays and animal models for testing cancer chemopreventive agents. This lab proved the point that University system is ideal centre for inspiring students’ research interests in the areas that have direct societal concerns. He also proved that grooming young talented minds in universities could serve nation through scientific research at lesser cost than specially established research laboratories.
Awards and Honours: Professor Rao received numerous awards, including Fogarty Fellowship from National Institutes of Health, in addition to other grants and international fellowships. He was also elected Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences (India), Allahabad.