A.S. Paintal a celebrated physiologist
THE GOLDEN Jubilee Celebrations of the Association of Physiologists and Pharmacologists of India (APPI) was held in Bangalore in December 2004; but it was not to be a celebration in the literal sense. The delegates received the very sad news that Dr. A. S. Paintal had passed away in Delhi on December 21, 2004. India lost one of her most well known scientists in the basic medical science of physiology.
Dr. Paintal, after his initial studies at the Lucknow Medical College, proceeded to the University of Edinburgh to do his Ph.D. His passion was for research work on recording action potentials from single nerve fibres of cardiac receptors.
This work done by him in his early thirties had a spectacular impact on the science of physiology. He came to be ranked among the best in this field of action potentials. The celebrated cardio-vascular physiologist, Prof. C. Heymans paid glowing tributes to Dr. Paintal's work.
In fact Prof. Heymans went to the extent of treating this course of study of recording single fibre action potentials into two distinct periods, namely, pre-Paintal era and post-Paintal era!
Return to India
He returned to India to continue his research in the field of receptors and to train post-graduates in solid research work. Dr. Paintal joined the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi. The University of Edinburgh honoured him with D.Sc., while he was on the faculty of the AIIMS.
Later he became the Director of the Vallabhai Patel Chest Institute, Delhi and after that the Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research, (ICMR).
The halo around high-sounding administrative positions never attracted him.
He was more at home in his laboratories and he delved deep into several areas of his field of interest such as muscles spindles, golgi tendon organs muscles, gastric presso-receptors and the pulmonary vascular bed.
Diameters of the nerve fibres from these receptors and their conduction velocities under varied conditions were meticulously analysed. His study of the `J' receptors in the pulmonary vascular bed once again brought him to the forefront of world famous physiologists.
His research contributions received outstanding recognition as early as the forties. His brilliant work fetched him the enviable FRS honour from the University of London. Prof. Stephen Hawkins, the noted physicist and another recipient of the same award, considers this a priceless honour.
Dr. Paintal had received his FRS from the University of Edinburgh as well and at last India too honoured him with a Padma Vibhushan.
His dynamic personality and his sharp questions kept his students on their toes. He took immense care of them and their welfare. Every one of them respected him, admired him and adored him.
Besides physiology and research, his only known hobby was a little yachting, which he used to do on the Yamuna river in Delhi.
Well, India has lost a true scientist who spent more than fifty years of his lifetime in basic research and our country is yet to see another great man of Dr. Paintal's calibre in the field of basic medical science.
Dr. Susan Thomas
Director of Physiology (Retd.)Government Medical College
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