Cancer conference sponsored by IIT Madras mired in controversy

The International Conference on Translational Cancer Research sponsored by IIT Madras, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas and the Society for Translational Cancer Research and to be held in Chennai from February 8-11 is getting murkier. The conference is on “Cancer prevention and treatment: From ancient medicine to modern medicine.”

Baba Ramdev, who was supposed to be the Chief Guest at the event and inaugurate it, is apparently not turning up, says Prof. D. Karunagaran from the Department of Biotechnology at IIT Madras, who is coordinating the conference. I am not sure if this was in response to the article that appeared in The New Indian Express, which broke the news. Prof. Karunagaran did not confirm this either.

Meanwhile, in response to a tweet from Ivanoransky from Retraction Watch, MD Anderson responded saying: “In the past, MD Anderson has sponsored this conference through its Global Academic Program. But this year, we’re not a sponsor. Our name and logo are being used without permission, and we’ve requested they be removed from promotional materials.” It went further to clarify that those faculty from MD Anderson who are participating in the event were doing so on their own time.


But Prof. Karunagaran has a different story to tell. In an email to me he says: “I have evidence that MD Anderson sponsored the event and allowed the use of their logo. We have signed an MoU with MD Anderson… Dr. Varsha Gandhi [who is one of the organisers of the conference from MD Anderson] will be here on 8th, one can verify my claims with her or other international committee members.” He did not, however, share evidence to back his claim.

In a tweet to me, MD Anderson stood their ground and said: “As we said previously, MD Anderson has sponsored this conference through its Global Academic Program in the past. But this year, we’re not a sponsor, which is why we’ve asked the sponsor not to use our name and logo.”

On why Baba Ramdev was chosen as the Chief Guest for a scientific event when he clearly has no science background and had supported a unscientific statement made by Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma that cancer is the result of sins committed in past life Prof. Karunagaran says: “It was Prof. S. Pathak [one of the organisers from MD Anderson Cancer Center], who knows Baba Ramdev, who suggested his name. I had no role in this. I did not know about the controversial statement made by Baba Ramdev about cancer till yesterday.”

Ramdev had also claimed that yoga and concoctions marketed by his pharmacy can help cure cancer, HIV and other diseases.

Director of IIT Madras Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi tells me that the institute has not committed any financial support for the conference. “The conference is not even held at IIT Madras,” he says. It is being held at a hotel in Chennai.

Bharat Aggarwal, formerly with MD Anderson and one of the organisers of the conference, has to his credit 18 retracted papers, mostly for image manipulation, according to Retraction Watch.  “I am aware of the retractions. But he is not addressing the conference. He is only introducing the person delivering the keynote lecture,” says Prof. Karunagaran.