VIROLOGIST Dr. Pradeep Seth talks of bread and butter and “virus” in one breath. In his dreams he watches viruses move and multiply and still doesn’t call them nightmares.
If you ask him how is it possible for dead viruses to merge and become live whole again, he gives you the example of Terminator 2: Judgement Day where T-1000 (Robert Patrick), Schwarzenegger’s adversary, becomes small liquid globules, only to conjoin and become a whole again. “After working on viruses for almost 30 years, I think about them all the time”, says Seth, sitting in his office at AIIMS on Tuesday.
Seth was possibly thinking about viruses and more when, last December, he injected himself with the HIV-1 DNA vaccine – which he and his team of postgraduate students are developing – to check its toxicity on humans. “It has been more than six months and I am absolutely fine. I go to the gym and jog every day” he says displaying the scars of his battle against virus on his arms.
Seth’s fight against viruses has, of course, been more than just about building muscles. More than just about convincing his wife and elder daughter before testing the vaccine – till then tried only on animals – on himself.
“Lack of funds and bureaucratic red tapism have often delayed the progress of the research,” he says. “But my team and I have pushed through.”
Over the past few years, the project has been regularly funded and monitored by the Biotechnology Department in the Science and Technology Ministry.
Lot has changed on the HIV front since 1986. Then, India knew six persons to be infected with HIV virus. Now, the country has 5.1 million HIV-positive people.
“That’s why research in India is so important,” says Seth. “I‘ve had offers from US scientists to join their initiatives in inventing an HIV vaccine but I’ve stayed on. I am retiring next year but before I do, I must start the human trials.