Dr Gabriel Fernandes – Mangalorean Star
Mangalorean.com proudly crowns distinguished scientist, Dr Gabriel Fernandes as a ‘Mangalorean Star’ of the month of June 2003.
Dr Gabriel Fernandes was born on March 25, 1936, in Barkur, 45km away from Mangalore. He is the 3rd son of the late Mr Jerome D. Fernandes and the late Mrs. Assumpta Fernandes at Moodahadu village. He attended primary school at Pandeshwar and higher primary at St. Anthony’s Parish at Sastan, mainly because of difficulties in crossing several rivers to reach Barkur schools. Fortunately, a National High School was just opened in Barkur, he was the first in the family to be able to attend and complete high school in 1953. Although, St. Aloysius College in Mangalore offered him a free scholarship, he could not go to college since his family was very poor and he also had three younger siblings to support.
Dr Fernandes migrated to Bombay in search of an employment. His relentless efforts and hardship paid him off with an entry-level job at Tata Cancer Research Center to take care of chicken and mice used in research. He was sent to Agricultural College in Pune to complete training in poultry keeping, and there he bragged 1st rank in the class. Quickly, Gabriel found an opportunity to undertake nutrition research in chickens to optimize the body growth and egg laying capacity using pharmaceutical wastes as dietary supplements. He soon published this work in scientific journals and it received much attention. He was sent to Sydney, Australia in 1962 to present his work at the 12th World Poultry Congress. He also received additional training at other research Institutes in Australia, at Walter Eliza Hall Institute Melbourne, and after his return was promoted to Chief Animal Technician of the Institute, supervising nearly 25 technicians.
During his stay in Bombay, besides his laboratory work, he had to his credit the following:
1. Presented his work in a workshop during the Papal visit in 1964, at the 38th International Eucharistic Congress held in Bombay.
2. He is the founder of the St Peregrine (Patron Saint of Cancer victims) Association of catholic employees of the Tata Center
Dr Fernandes met Edmond J. Yunis, M.D., a visiting professor from the University of Minnesota, USA, in 1967, at Tata Institute, Bombay, who thought Dr. Fernandes had a Ph.D. When he learnt Dr. Fernandes only had a high school degree, through his help Dr. Fernandes received admission to the University of Minnesota. Hence, Dr. Fernandes landed in USA on January 15, 1968. He completed his B.Sc. degree in 1973, and his M.Sc. in 1975 at the University of Minnesota. In the meantime, he also successfully completed other examinations to become a certified Laboratory Animal Tehcnologist and Board Certified Nutrition Specialist. Besides, while working full time, he also continued his nutrition research in mice on the side and was able to publish his work with other famous Professors in several prestigious scientific journals, including Nature, PNAS, etc.
In 1977, he was offered a Scientist job at the well-known Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in New York. He was also given an opportunity by the Institute to continue his research and to complete his Ph.D. degree from the University of Bombay in 1979. Soon after the completion of his doctorate degree, he was promoted to Assistant Professor at Sloan Kettering and was able to obtain research grant support from the NIH to do his own research.
As a result of his outstanding research activities in the area of nutrition, cancer, and aging, was then offered an independent job as Associate Professor of Medicine with Tenure at the University of Texas Health Science Center, at San Antonio and moved there in 1981, where he became a Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Physiology in 1988.
His current research involves using fewer calories to prolong life span and slow the aging process by inhibition of autoimmune diseases and cancer in mice. He recently started research on fish oil, which has also been found to modify the immune system and many autoimmune disorders such as kidney disease, cancer and bone loss. His work has always been supported by grants from NIH and other agencies. He has published 170 refereed papers, 80 reviews and book chapters and over 230 abstracts so far, and has been invited to present talks at various National and International meetings held in various countries. Dr Fernandes has served in various National organizations and on Editorial Boards, and was a member of two NIH study sections for terms of 4 years each, to review research grants at Washington D.C. He also received awards such as the Distinguished Scientist from the Association of Scientists of Indian Origin in America (ASIOA), and International Nutritional Immunology Group Award.
Dr Fernandes is currently President of the ASIOA, Inc., and also President of the Indian Faculty Association of the University of Texas Health Science Center, which provides help to students and Post Doctoral trainees etc. He also regularly trains postdoctoral fellows particularly those arriving from India. Several of the fellows he has trained have already become research Professors at other Universities. Dr. Fernandes is also currently a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association.
In spite of his busy research and other activities in the USA, Dr. Fernandes has not forgotten his native land and his childhood memories in the village. He recently started to provide Dr. G. Fernandes Scholarships to needy students who are having difficulty attending either Pre University or regular College. He has so far given over 40 scholarships to many students, both Hindu and Christian, with the kind help of the Parish Priests of Barkur. He is also trying to establish a “Village to College Scholarship fund” to provide assistance on a regular basis to bright and very needy students by raising additional funds from new donors to help many more students from nearby villages to complete a College degree. The Mangalorean.com will publish details of his contribution of his establishment of fund; it’s eligibility criteria and contact person/entities in the near future. He has also given financial help to churches and schools and recently a generous donation was given by him to the Rotary Club of Brahmavar to build a drinking water storage tank at the National Junior College in Barkur. For this particular effort, the Rotary Club of San Antonio, Texas recently gave him a Paul Harris Fellow Award.
Dr Fernandes tied the knot with Clara, from Bombay (originally from Shirva) on January 23, 1966. She is a trained Social Worker, has MS from Nirmal Niketan Bombay and MS from Columbia University. Currently she is a housewife. Together they have two kids, one son and a daughter. His son Ashu is married and has two small boys. He is currently serving as a Regional Sales Manager of a large Pharmaceutical Co. in Chicago. His daughter Anjali is working as Speech Pathologist in San Antonio. His brothers and sisters are Benedict, Romalth, Sr. Dr. Consilia (Helen), James, toxicologist at Abbott Chicago, and Vincent. a Jr. Engineer in Bombay. Sr. Dr. Consilia is a well known obstetrician and gynecologist at Hyderabaad.
Dr Fernandes is an extremely hardworking, down to earth, energetic and inspiring person; who carries a great big smile and make others at ease while around him. Though he is been in USA for the past 34 years, he speaks very fluent Konkani, Kannada and Marathi. He made me feel like I was in Barkur during my conversation with him.
When asked about his role models and their influence in his life, this is what he said:
“Beside my mother as a role model for hard work, Mr. Abundius Roche, a neighbor, who was a hard working self made farmer, also set an example that dedicated hard work (18 hours a day) gives ample rewards. My success later was meeting right people, and always working hard”
Dr Fernandes is very busy with research work, but occasionally, during his free time; he loves fishing, watching games on TV – Football, basketball (SPURS), etc.
Here is what he has to say to the Mangalorean.com portal:
“I am extremely happy to learn about the recent birth of Mangalorean. Com, a very attractive new website, created by a few highly dedicated people from Mangalore. I predict this site will grow soon rapidly and will serve many of us who are eager and anxious to interact closely to maintain our distinct rich cultural heritage among our growing young Mangaloreans in several countries. I urge everyone to encourage and support this team and help them to serve one another closely in coming years. I wish good luck to this site for all their developments in future.”
In conclusion, reading Dr Fernandes life story I can confidently say that nothing is impossible in this world. Through dedication, hard work, confidence, and determination, we can achieve anything. Dr Fernandes is a very good example of selfless simple person, who is conscious of his upbringing and hardship and tries hard to help the needy and is a boon to community service to our motherland. His educational fund will help many deprived students in Barkur and surrounding area.
Mangalorean.com wishes him good luck in his endeavors.
Submitted by: Queenie Mendonca, Chicago.