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Interview with Atul R. Laddu, MD, PhD, President and CEO of Global Thrombosis Forum

December 17, 2020
Interview by Mohamed Ghonim, PhD

LadduAtul R. Laddu, MD, PhD is a retired physician-researcher and has been a member of ASPET since 1972. Dr. Laddu was born in Pune (formerly Poona), India and received his MD from G. R. Medical College, Gwalior, India (1962) and PhD from Delhi University (1967). He came to the U.S. in 1968 as a postdoctoral fellow conducting research in cardiovascular pharmacology in the department of Pharmacology at the Medical College of Wisconsin (formerly Marquette Medical School), working under the guidance of Pitambar Somani, MD, PhD and Harold F. Hardman, PhD, MD, the then Chairman of the department of Pharmacology. In 1976, Dr. Laddu moved to clinical research and was employed at several pharmaceutical companies including Abbott Laboratories, Dupont Pharmaceuticals, Eli Lilly and Company and Solvay Pharmaceuticals.  During this time, he was responsible for getting drugs including abciximab (Reopro), acebutolol (Sectral), esmolol (Brevibloc), estazolam, terazosin (Hytrin), valproic Acid (Depakote) approved by the FDA and bringing them to market.

Dr. Laddu has had a life-long interest in both pre-clinical and clinical research and has authored over 150 publications in peer-reviewed journals. He has also always had a passion for research and teaching and he and his wife established the Atul & Jayashree Laddu ASPET Travel Award to encourage young scientists to participate in research and present findings at the ASPET Annual Meeting.

In 2012, Dr. Laddu founded the Georgia Thrombosis Forum (GTF), an organization with a mission to increase awareness of thrombosis throughout local communities. Based on his work in the community, he was awarded the highest state award for community service by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal in January 2016.

In this exclusive interview, Dr. Laddu talks about his outreach work with the GTF. 

Can you introduce yourself and tell us what motivated you to found the GTF?

Atul Laddu: I am a retired physician-researcher and a member of ASPET for the past over 45 years.  I worked primarily in the pharmaceutical industry such as Abbott, Eli Lilly, and others, my primary responsibility being drug development in Phases I, II, III, and IV clinical trials. After my retirement, I wanted to do something where I could give back to the community. In 2012, I started Global Thrombosis Forum (GTF) which is an affiliate of the North American Thrombosis Forum (NATF). I wanted to devote my efforts by mentoring young high school students in areas of research, presentations, and leadership. Over the past few years, our students have achieved very high levels in research by performing summer internships at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (ACPHS) and the Department of Thrombosis and Hemostasis at Loyola University.  These students have presented their research at the FASEB meetings 2019, 2020 (in 2020 the FASEB meeting has been canceled, but their research work was accepted for oral/poster presentations).     

What is the overall mission of the GTF and how are you able to achieve this mission?

AL: The primary mission of GTF is to make the community aware of the life-threatening situation of thrombosis and its complications and to mentor young high school students in areas of research, presentations, and leadership. We achieve the mission by having a handful of youth and adult volunteers who work tirelessly for the mission of GTF by volunteering for the GTF.

Can you tell us more about the contribution of the foundation into the community and give us an overview of the ongoing projects/programs?

AL: We have received proclamations for thrombosis in the State of Georgia, Georgia Senate, several counties (Cobb, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall), cities (Alpharetta, Atlanta, Dacula, Duluth, Lilburn, Milton, Sugar Hill, Suwanee) in Georgia.  The uniqueness of GTF programs is that the projects and programs are customized for each student and for each school level.  GTF gives personal attention to the development of each child. We have students from 7th grade to the high school level, and thus the types of projects/programs are different.  We thus have created 5 levels in GTF, these are not very stringent rigid, and we do make variations in these from time to time. Several of our students have been the first authors of these research presentations. We have launched a radio program where our young members talk about various aspects of thrombosis on the radio.To date, GTF has been able to manage over 200 such projects.

How many students have the GTF sponsored since foundation? How successful is the sponsorship program?

AL: Every year, GTF has been sponsoring 4-5 students summer interns at ACPHS, 2 at BWH, 5-6 at Loyola University, 4-5 at the University of North Georgia. To date, we have sponsored over 100 students for these internship programs.  GTF has been very successful in their missions. Here is the listing of some of the achievements of GTF over the past 8 years:

  • By reaching over 75,000 attendees at various events, we have given the message to the community about the risk/prevention of thrombosis.
  • GTF was awarded the Best of Swanee Award in Suwanee Fest which attracts about 50,000 people each year.
  • I myself was awarded the “Servent’s Award” by the Governor of the State of Georgia for community work.
  • As indicated earlier, we have received proclamations from thrombosis from several cities, counties, and the State of GA.
  • The young members get training in public speaking, preparing the projects on their own that brings an independent working habit in them, gives them an early training in conducting research.
  • Our interns have presented and published their research findings in the annual meetings of ASH, FASEB, ISTH, IUA.
  • GTF has established an Annual Essay Competition where we give cash awards to the winners.
  • We have established scholarships to deserving students for their research at the University levels.
  • As mentioned earlier, one of our students was invited at the Annual meeting Invited by Dr. Eva Wojcik, the Chairperson of the Department of Pathology at Loyola to present/report my his experience and help others develop successful programs at the Association of Pathology Chairs Meeting: San Diego July 19 - 22, 2020.

What are your prospective goals for the future of GTF?

AL: We feel that GTF has created a completely new, innovative technology to bring the best from the young students.  GTF wants to emphasize the fact that the high school students possess tremendous untapped potential, which under the right circumstances, right mentors, and right opportunities, could add a big value to our generation.  To my knowledge, GTF is the only platform that gives opportunities for a high school student for intense research training resulting in and presentations of their research at FASEB, American Society of Hematology (ASH), International Society of Thrombosis and Hemostasis (ISTH), and others.

A Participant’s Perspective: Interview with Sharan Krishnappan

Sharan Krishnappan is an 11th grade student and has been a participant in the GTF program for the last 4 years. Miss Krishnappan gives us her perspective of the program and how its has sparked an interest in scientific research below.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us why were you interested in joining the GTF program?

Sharan Krishnappan: I am an 11th-grade student at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Georgia. I have been with GTF for the past 4 years. I joined GTF because through the GTF, I have grown to become a stronger student and received opportunities that not many high schoolers throughout the world get. As a 16-year-old, last summer, I spent 4 weeks living independently, working as a research intern at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (ACPHS) under the mentorship of Shaker Mousa, PhD and Loyola Center of Translational Medicine, under the mentorship of Jawed Fareed, PhD.

In these internships, a major theme in GTF is the mentorship that students receive. Our overall mentor, Dr. Atul Laddu, helps guide us onto a path with which we can accomplish any goal we set, and he gives us the mentorship needed to succeed in a competitive world like the one we are living in. He gives us direction but makes sure to never push anything on students, as he believes that students should grow in areas that interest them. Additionally, we have mentors all around the US in different parts of the US that teach us educational values while instilling the value of discipline in daily life.

I believe that GTF’s main goal is to give attention to hard-working passionate students who would like to pursue a career in the field of medicine. The organization looks to emphasize these student’s contributions by enabling them to publish in various outlets, speak with respected individuals, and receive media attention throughout the United States. In every GTF product, the students are the main focus. Through Dr. Laddu’s humility, GTF continues to make its main purpose in advancing the progress of high school students and helping them reach their full potential.

GTF is fully convinced that the young high school students have tremendous built-in qualities (the art of writing, presentations, working independently, time management, building self-confidence, working in group settings, conducting research, making presentations at scientific sessions of major research-oriented societies, and many more).  One of the very important missions of GTF is to bring out the best from the young members.

What are the fees for joining GTF and how long is the training program?

SK: The entire work for GTF is absolutely free.  Dr. Laddu’s time and time of the BOD members are absolutely free, and there is never any charge for the projects.  GTF thus considers all the work done by the BOD members a gift to the community. 

Can you describe the structure of the GTF program and tell us about the pattern and complexity of the assignments?

SK: There were a good number of assignments given every month, but it was the perfect balance with school activities. Each assignment that Dr. Laddu gave to us would be because he recognized our interests and looked to help us learn more regarding them. I believe that as I continued to complete GTF projects, the complexity increased as a byproduct. At first, I was mainly working in booths and town functions in efforts to receive proclamations, but as I rose up in the GTF organization, I began to conduct research at prominent facilities throughout the United States. I believe that the increase in complexity is necessary because it ensures that students continue to be challenged as they grow in experience.

Was there any interference between the GTF activities and your daily school obligations?

SK: Never was a time where my assignments of activities in GTF and my school assignments were piling up on me.  Actually, avoiding the clash is partly the responsibility of GTF and partly the students.  GTF never pushes deadlines on the students, and it is up to the student to fully know the timelines at the school before taking on a GTF project.  The deadlines in GTF are not given, they are negotiated so that the studies are not affected adversely.  Actually, most of the GTF students have a 3.8 + grade prior to joining GTF.  It is important to know that the students not only maintain their grades but even improve upon their grades while working in GTF.

How was the research project assigned to you under the GTF program?

SK: The projects given at GTF are based on the student’s interests. Before we join the organization, we have a long discussion with Dr. Laddu discussing our passions, hobbies, and the reason we are joining GTF. Using this knowledge, Dr. Laddu identifies topics of interest that he can center projects around to help all GTF volunteers stay passionate and involved in what they are doing. Projects are never dumped on us because we work on projects that interest us.

Were there any networking activities integrated into the GTF program? Were you able to get new contacts?

SK: GTF has been instrumental in widening my contacts. At the age of 17, I have received contacts that I will be able to utilize for the rest of my life. I now have developed new contacts with professors, department heads at institutions, senators, councilmen, and other respected figures in their field. So networking has been a very beneficial impact of joining GTF.

Can you describe your training experience environment in GTF?

SK: The overall atmosphere in the GTF is very friendly. Personally, GTF has given me another family. The members in GTF are fully welcoming and look to see each other grow. With Dr. Laddu and Mrs. Laddu loving each and every volunteer in GTF, we are fully grateful for this family. To demonstrate the family feel, we even call Dr. Laddu Aajoba (grandpa) and Mrs. Laddu Aaji (grandma). This represents not only the family feel but also the true affection that is demonstrated between mentors and volunteers.
The students in GTF are given projects with 2-3 members working together.  This gives us a great opportunity to work together and create a team spirit.

Tell us how the GTF program impacted you as a high school student?

SK: My overall experience with the GTF program has been influential in my life. Through the booths and speeches, I have been given a voice in my community to have valuable input on issues I am passionate about. Through the literature studies and projects, I have been able to satisfy my intellectual curiosity and continue to learn more each and every day. Through the internships and publications, I have been able to create connections with respected individuals and travel the nation doing something I love. The GTF has not only provided me with fulfillment but has also given me another family.


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