Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Yellapragada Subba Row


In the face of dire poverty of the family, he still could complete his education in the Hindu High School and the Presidency College, in the then Madras, financially supported by his roommate in the hostel, B.Narayanamurthi.
Subba Row then joined the Madras Medical College in 1915, got the L.M.S in 1921, and not the M.B.B.S degree. The British professor failed him in surgery, because he wore khadi surgical gown and thereby showed his identification with the national movement for freedom.
He was clear about what he wanted to do — to take up research for the service and benefit of humanity — and not set up shop as a doctor. He got admission, without taking an examination to the Harvard School of Tropical Medicine.
He married Seshagiri in 1922 and could give her a skimpy living on a monthly salary of Rs.100 which he earned for a year as a lecturer at the Madras Ayurvedic College, founded by Lakshmi Pathi.
His father-in-law came to his aid for proceeding to the U.S. for higher studies; he arrived in Boston on October 26, 1923 with $100 in his pocket. Strong, Head of the School of Tropical Medicine, lent him the money for registration and other immediate expenses.
The work done at Harvard, amidst the hard times he passed through and the exploitation by his colleagues, Fiske and Duggar, is described in the correct setting in chapters two to nine.
The Fiske-Subba Row Method of estimating phosphorus was published in December 1925 and earned him a Rockfeller Fellowship. Following this phosphocreatine was announced in April 1927, which was a landmark in the history of muscle biochemistry.
Subba Row was now ripe, despite himself, for the overtures of Lederle Laboratories from William Bell, President of American Cynamid. Bell's goodwill created congenial working conditions for him to leap forward in the pharmaceutical work that he was soon to make. This subject is covered in detail in chapters 12 to 15.
He shunned publicity. When Aureomycin was publicly launched on July 21, 1948, Subba Row sat in a back row in the Roosevelt Auditorium. Some of the miracle drugs that he discovered are listed below: Synthesis of folic acid (August 1945); the first broad spectrum antibiotic Aureomycin (July 1948), by which he paid his debts to his motherland when plague broke out in Gujarat and Maharashtra in 1994; Hetrazan (1947), which has since become the key element in WHO's global campaign for the elimination of filariasis.
Aureomycin, "a million dollar drug" in the words of Subba Row, turned out to be a money-spinner for American Cynamid. A new fungus was named after him as "Subbaromyces Splendens".
He died on August 9,1948 at the age of 52. Till 1946, nearly 23 years since his landing in the U.S., he was not eligible for U.S. citizenship. But true to his inner aspiration, he clung to his Indian citizenship.
Seshagiri, who had 25 years of waiting behind her, said in the words that only a woman of her noble mould could muster, "I was glad that by marrying me, he had been enabled to help humanity in the way he had."
The book, so attractively got up at an incredibly low price, should find a place in the personal collection of all doctors and aspiring medical students


Anonymous said...

His story first I heard in Door Darshan Surabhi Program. but got to know about his personal life only today.
Thanks & keep up the good work.

Dr.isMail said...

Thanks for your blog on Subba Rao,Yellapragada by whose efforts may be millions of lives are saved today.Appreciate your hard work.Keep going.