Indo-American News January 14, 2022

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Friday, January 14, 2022 | Vol. 41, No. 02

January 14, 2022


Indo American News


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Shoba Narayan : Jasmine in ‘Aladdin’

As ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway prepares to reopen their doors, Shoba Narayan as Jasmine brings a necessary cultural awakening to the Disney show.


Cancer Cure via mRNA

Dr. Balachandran is leading the application of mRNA vaccines for treatment of pancreatic cancer.



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January 14, 2022

Indo-American Doctor Leads Use of mRNA Vaccines beyond Covid

New York: In 2017, Vinod Balachandran published a paper in the science journal Nature explaining an interesting phenomenon that he had discovered in a tiny number of pancreatic cancer survivors. Tcells circulating in their blood had developed the ability to identify, remember and fight back against proteins in the deadly tumours. The surgeon, from New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, likened it to “auto-vaccination”. Balachandran described how actual vaccines using messenger RNA molecules could be used to replicate the response and give more patients the ability to defend themselves against the often fatal tumours. His research caught the eye of a then little-known scientist, Ugur Sahin, chief executive of German biotechnology company BioNTech, who was so intrigued by the findings that he invited Balachandran’s team to Mainz. Over dinner at Heiliggeist, a nearly 800-yearold church-turned-restaurant on the banks of the river Rhine, and joined by scientists from Swiss pharmaceutical company Genentech, the group discussed the potential of mRNA vaccines to treat pancreatic cancer. “It was beautiful,” says Balachandran about the restaurant that once served as a hospital, and the conversation: “The purpose and the mission was common between us.” Survival rates among pancreatic cancer patients are low. Only 10 per cent survive longer than five years, according to the American Cancer Society, making it one of the deadliest forms of the disease. By comparison, 90 per cent of breast cancer patients survive over the same period of time. Two years of research followed the dinner and in December 2019, 20 patients were enrolled in the first clinical trial assessing mRNA vaccines in pancreatic cancer sufferers. With the world about to learn of a novel coronavirus, BioNTech and others would soon pivot their mRNA work to create a vaccine against Covid-19. While the mRNA vaccines made by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna have become synonymous with helping to dramatically reduce deaths from Covid-19, Balachandran is among a growing group of scientists using the medical technology to investigate treatments for other illnesses. Proponents of mRNA argue that combating Covid-19 is just the start and that its wider adoption heralds a revolution in modern medicine. Cures for some forms of cancer are among several areas being explored. Pharmaceutical companies are now turning their attention to the power of mRNA to tackle a range of illnesses from flu to heart disease and HIV. Very early vaccine trials are also under way for the Zika virus, yellow fever and rare diseases such as methylma-

Dr. Vinod Balachandran is a research surgeon at New The use of mRNA vaccine could lead to an effective York’s Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. treatment of pancreatic cancer.

lonic acidemia, where the body is unable to break down proteins. “Five years ago there was hesitation from the larger companies about investing in this space,” says Michael Choy, head of life sciences at Boston Consulting Group. “Having so many people receive the mRNA product [for Covid] has made a big difference.” The success of the Covid-19 vaccines has transformed the scientific and commercial view of the technology. No mRNA-based product had ever been approved by regulators until the crisis, and despite years of research the technology was regarded by some in the industry as difficult to commercialise. “It is often a combination between medical need and feasibility,” says Sahin, about how the company has chosen the illnesses to target. BioNTech’s focus has always been on creating individualised vaccines tailored to attack specific cancers, an approach that Sahin, an oncologist, believes will revolutionise the treatment of the disease. The company has begun drug trials to treat colorectal, breast, skin and other cancers. Other drugmakers including Moderna are also studying personalised cancer vaccines using mRNA. They hope to treat diseases that are among the leading causes of death worldwide while also tapping into the multibillion-dollar oncology market. Sales of cancer therapeutics are forecast to hit $250bn by 2024, up from $143bn in 2019, according to McKinsey. “The motivation for this individualised cancer vaccine is that every tumour is different,” Sahin says, adding that even patients with the same cancer type do not have identical tumours, meaning a personalised treatment is likely to be more effective than a one-sizefits-all approach. Therapeutic cancer vaccines aim to stimulate an immune response against existing tumours, rather than preventing disease like a flu shot. They are tailored to the specific mutations in a patient’s tumour. Scientists remove tissue from the tumour through a biopsy and then sequence the mutations found in the cancer cells. The findings are compared to the DNA in a patient’s blood and algorithms are used to predict which specific

proteins will elicit the strongest immune response. These proteins are then encoded — 20 of them, by both BioNTech and Moderna — into an mRNA molecule that forms the essence of the cancer vaccine. Once injected, the instructions carried on the mRNA vaccine tell the body’s cells to express certain proteins which train the immune system to recognise the mutations on the cancer cells as foreign agents, and then attack and destroy those cells. “We started in 2014 and the time from tumour sample to vaccine was about three months but now with automation . . . it takes less than six weeks,” Sahin says. Existing cancer vaccines primarily target the virus causing the cancer, rather than the tumour itself. In the US, the non-mRNA HPV vaccine is given to children as young as nine in order to protect against cervical cancer, which can be caused by the human papillomavirus. Beyond cancer, mRNA trials are under way for various infectious diseases. Influenza vaccine studies are expected to produce results most quickly. An infectious disease such as Covid or flu mutates over time and so vaccines must be updated annually for new strains. Existing flu vaccinations use inactivated versions of the virus and provide between 40 per cent and 60 per cent protection because from the time the vaccine is made to when it is administered, the virus has often already mutated. It is hoped that mRNA, which can be adapted more quickly, will dramatically increase the efficacy of seasonal flu jabs. Continuing its partnership with BioNTech, Pfizer in September started trials of an mRNA flu vaccine for adults aged between 65 and 85, one of the groups most vulnerable to the illness. “The lowest hanging fruit is in viral vaccines because we have this clear proof of concept,” says Philip Dormitzer, chief scientific officer of Pfizer. “But we don’t think that’s the endpoint.” He adds that the company was already working with BioNTech on developing a flu shot when Covid hit “so we obviously switched to work on a Covid-19 vaccine using very much the technology that we were preparing for the flu vaccine. As bandwidth opens up, we are

now going back to working on the flu vaccine.” Pfizer’s flu jab is its only other mRNA collaboration with BioNTech so far. “I think we are capable of going alone for everything but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what we’ll choose to do,” says Dormitzer. The company has yet to reveal which other areas it plans to target with mRNA but Dormitzer says rare diseases, protein replacement and gene editing “are all of interest”. “There may be companies who say ‘we have 20 vaccines in our pipeline. You’re not going to see that approach coming from Pfizer,” he adds. By contrast, at Moderna’s annual research and development day in September, the company laid out its mRNA plans — all 34 of them, in six different areas of medicine. The 11-year-old biotech group, whose stock market ticker is MRNA, is spending about half of its energy on tackling respiratory viruses and other infectious diseases, according to Stephen Hoge,

its president, and the other half on cancer vaccines, rare diseases and gene therapy. “It’s tragic that we’re going to have about 4m Covid deaths this year,” says Hoge, “but every year, there are about 4m deaths from respiratory viruses. The difference is that it is just in smaller buckets . . . half a million here, 100,000 there, and it totals up to a terrifying number every year.” The Massachusetts-based company aims to create a pan-respiratory vaccine that would provide combined immunity from Covid19, flu and other infections such as respiratory syncytial virus — a common disease that can cause lung infections — in one jab. “Nobody wants to be a pin cushion,” adds Hoge. “We can actually get this into one needle.” Each of Moderna’s respiratory vaccines must be individually assessed before a combination is made. The company started trials of its flu shot in July while its vaccine for cytomegalovirus, a disease that has no vaccine and can cause birth defects in babies, is in phase 2 trials and still some way from regulatory approval. The scientific and commercial success of the two mRNA Covid19 vaccines has spurred a rush of investment into the sector. New mRNA treatments are expected to begin entering the market from 2025, according to research by Boston Consulting Group. Revenues are expected to peak at $23bn in 2035, with prophylactic and therapeutic cancer vaccines comprising 50 and 30 per cent of sales respectively. --

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Indo-American News • Friday, january 14, 2022 •

3 Shoba Narayan Stars as Jasmine in Broadway Hit ‘Aladdin’


New York: Shoba Narayan first faced the limits of being a South Asian woman in musical theater when she was only 13. Her school had decided to stage a production of The Wizard of Oz, and Narayan told her friends she wanted to try out for the role of Dorothy. It wouldn’t happen, her classmates responded, because “Dorothy isn’t brown.” “I realized during that experience how much representation mattered at that time and I realized how much my ethnicity played a role in my participation in theater,” Narayan said. The experience was a “turning point,” said Narayan, and put her down a path of fighting for lead roles in musicals and making history along the way. Last year, she was cast as the first South Asian actress in Broadway history to play Princess Jasmine in Aladdin. Narayan saw at a young age how much representation mattered in the arts. Growing up in Bryn Mawr, Pa., her parents, both Indian immigrants with a deep passion for music, supported Narayan through classes for ballet and an Indian dance called Bharatanatyam. They drove her to musical auditions and watched the one-woman performances she put on every evening at home. After graduating from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee in 2012, Narayan moved to New York where she performed in theater productions and on television.

Her Broadway career began when she was cast as Natasha in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, and she made

January 14, 2022

history in that show in 2017 as the first South Asian woman in a lead role on Broadway since Bombay Dreams in 2004.

Narayan then starred as Eliza Hamilton in Hamilton and was Nessarose in Wicked before taking the role of Princess Jasmine in September 2021. She stars alongside Michael Maliakel, who is making history of his own as the show’s first South Asian Aladdin. The two actresses who were cast in the role prior to Narayan, Courtney Reed and Arielle Jacobs, are both of partial Asian descent. But Narayan has brought certain changes to the show that reflect her South Asian background. “I spoke to Disney about some lines that could be shifted to be made a little bit more sensitive to the audience that may come in. They’re small shifts, but I think it will make broader audiences feel welcomed,” she said. For example, Aladdin is set in a kingdom named Agrabah. In the show, it was often pronounced with an “a” sound like “apple,” rather than an “ah” sound like “olive.” Agrabah, of course, is a fictional city. But the cities and places in the Middle East and South Asia that inspired the name have a certain pronunciation, Narayan said — and she wanted that reflected in the show. Narayan said she also tweaked some of the choreography that was inspired by Bollywood dance to make it more specific. “Things like that, I wanted to make sure while I’m in the show, how can I help audiences who may be from our background feel

a little bit more like they’re being represented properly,” Narayan said. Narayan’s rise to the role of Princess Jasmine comes at a time when there’s been a heightened commitment from decision makers on Broadway to expand diversity and representation both on and off the stage. For Narayan, shows like Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812, and Hamilton were especially big wins because her roles were not specifically for Asian actors. “An effort was made to put a diverse cast on stage, no matter what the role was,” Narayan said of Hamilton. Since the movement for racial justice in the summer of 2020, she added, there have been even more conversations on representation when it comes to casting. It’s part of the reason why she was “elated” at the chance to play Princess Jasmine. “She’s an animated character, she’s not even real, but she means so much to me, just in the way she was portrayed as strong and smart. She had the guts to question authority at a time when that was not normal,” Narayan said. “We didn’t have portrayal of brown-skinned women while we were growing up. It feels very full circle to step into that role and also see the impact that this casting has made on so many South Asian women.” -- NPR

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4 January 14, 2022 Margazhi Thiruppavai Bhajan at MTS

MTS Devotees chanting Thiruppavai”

By Chitra Kumar Pearland: Despite the gloomy weather, falling temperatures and the early hours of the morning a dedicated group of 80+ devotees gathered in the Kalyana Mandapam Complex of Sri Meenakshi Temple. The mandapam was decorated with beautiful kolams by Smt Subashree Gokul Ms kaviya Shankar and Smt Uma Gomathi Chandrasekaran The day was Saturday January 8 and the event was Group Chanting of the THIRUPPAVAI. THIRUPPAVAI is a set of 30 hymns sung in praise of Lord Narayana by the child Prodigy and Only female ALWAR Sri ANDAL during the 7/8th Century AD. These Hymns are an integral part of the broader Nalayira Divya Prabhandam, a collection of 4000 moving hymns in the praise and bliss of Lord Narayana Sung by the 12 ALWAR saints. The event started with a personal message to the MTS devotees by Sri Velukkudi Krishnan Swamy exalting the virtues of the Thiruppavai and chanting it as a group. Subsequent to that was a soulful rendering of Goda Chatusloki by Smt, Maha Krishnan which was

followed by the group chanting of Thiruppavai by the assembled devotees. Additionally, there was beautiful singing of a selected few of the Thiruppavai by young girls – Dhrithi Balaji, Bhargavi & Pavitra Chandrasekaran, Sritha Amarnath (4 years old). The event concluded with a short discourse about Thiruppavai by MTS Priest Sri Sridhar Raghavan followed by a grand final Aarthi. A delicious brunch with prasadams brought by devotees culminated the entire program thus ensuring the audience got food for both their ears and stomach! The entire event was conducted under the auspices of the Sri MTS under the able leadership of Chair-

man Vinod Reddy Kaila. RAC head – Tupil Narasiman and spearheaded by Smt Nalini Sadagopan ably supported by Smt Vasuki Paneerselvam and coordinated adeptly by MTS Board Member Smt Chitra Kumar. We thank Kartik Datta for the photography. Overall, it was a celestial day of rendering Andal’s Thiruppavai on a beautiful Houston Margazhi morning by a dedicated group of Andal devotees. The perfect ambience of the MTS KM venue with exceptional support from the whole MTS organization and Dedicated Volunteers delivered the classic traditional Margazhi Spiritual Experience right here in Houston!

Indo American News Founder: Dr. K.L. Sindwani Publisher: Jawahar Malhotra Editor: Pramod Kulkarni Correspondent: Sanchali Basu ®All rights reserved. No material herein or portions thereof may be published without the written consent of the publisher. Deadline for advertising and articles is 4 pm on Monday of each week. Please include self-addressed, stamped envelope for return of all unsolicited material. Published at 7457 Harwin Drive, Suite 212, Houston, Texas 77036.Tel:713-789-6397, email:, website: www.


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January 14, 2022

‘Every Daughter Needs a Father’ Houston: Manish Arora, 43, father of a 2-year-old daughter is fighting an aggressive cancer (DLBCL) that had no further treatment left in India. We were informed that his life could be saved by the CAR-T cell therapy. We were advised to come to MD Anderson Cancer center in Texas. Despite various obstacles we reached MD Anderson in Nov, 21 to begin the process. However, as a patient who has traveled from India with no available insurance cover in the US, he was expected to cover significant costs in the range of USD 825,000. Manish has been fighting cancer over the last 2 years without any source of income. He lost his job due to the disease. We have combined our family resources. We have also requested help from various charities and patient support programs. Additionally, we have been fundraising and many people have come forward to help. However, we may still have a gap of $300,000. He needs your support to receive this breakthrough therapy. Time is running out – he was admitted into emergency just before Christmas as the tumor was increasing rapidly, however Doctors have bought time and controlled the tumor growth by giving him bridge therapy. He awaits the CAR-T cell treatment soon. Doctors have put his chance of cure at 75% if he gets the CAR-T cell therapy. Every daughter needs her father. This father needs your support. Will you not help? Please help and share this campaign so he can get the cure he needs. All donations in

the US will receive a 501c3 certificate by email. Crowdfunding Campaign: https://www. This campaign is also available on Benevity for your employer to do matching contributions: projects/431634 Benevity Project ID: 431634 Plan for February: Manish has vowed to help other cancer patients once he recovers. We are exploring ways to support cancer patients who have no hope left in India but can benefit from an advanced therapy here at MD Anderson. If you would like to collaborate in this effort that we will begin in Feb, please contact Vipul Arora (832 566 0883), brother of Manish.

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January 14, 2022

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January 14, 2022

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For Advertising in Indo-American News call: of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOCs) must still remain in focus. The existing guidelines for international arrivals in India have been formulated taking a risk-based approach. The existing

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January 14, 2022

Lata in Hospital with Covid, Pneumonia

Mumbai: Legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar was admitted to the ICU of Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital, after testing positive for Covid-19. She is also suffering from pneumonia. Dr Pratit Samdhani, who is heading the team of experts treating Mangeshkar, said that she was brought early on Sunday morning and is suffering from Covid-19 and pneumonia. Her niece Rachna Shah told, “Lata taai has tested positive for Covid-19, and considering her age, doctors advised us to admit her in the ICU because she requires constant care. We cannot take a chance. As a family, we want the best for her and we want to ensure that she gets proper medical care,” she said. Member of Parliament Prakash Javadekar wished for Mangeshkar’s quick recovery. “Get well soon Lata Mangeshkar ji. Whole


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In an active career spanning nearly seven decades, she has been credited for changing the face of Indian music scene and the place of female singers in India, becoming an inspiration for generations. Lata Mangeshkar was bestowed with the Padma Bhushan in 1969 and Bharat Ratna in 2001. She was also conferred with Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1990. -- ToI


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January 14, 2022

MTS Election Adds New Board of Directors

Pearland: Sri Meenakshi Temple Society’s Board of Directors’ election is held every other year on the first Sunday of December. The Board consists of 20 members, 18 of whom are elected for a four year term and two are appointed from the community for a two year term. Nine members of the Board are elected every two years, thus providing a fifty percent overlap. The nine elected Board of Directors are for various positions. On Sunday, Dec 5, 2021 the MTS Election Committee declared the following as elected for the 2022-2025 term: Mr. Arun Sundar, Vice Chairman Mr. Sundaramurthy Arunachalam, Vice Chairman Mr. Karunakar Chowdavarappu, Joint Secretary Mr. Ramsunder Ramamurthy, Joint Treasurer Mr. Tupil V Narasiman. Executive Director

Mr. Dhamo S. Dhamotharan, Executive Director Mr. Senthil Kumar Devaraj, Director Mr. Muthukumar Rajendran, Director Mrs. Ponni Sivaraman, Director Mr. Chittoor K Ramachandran, Director The 2022-2023 MTS Board that took over on the New Year’s Day is headed by the leadership team consisting of Chairman Mr. Vinod Reddy Kaila, Secretary Mr. M.K. Sriram, Treasurer Dr. Al. Alagappan. Other continuing Board members are Executive Directors Dr. T. Gopalakrishnan and Mr. Rama Somayajulu Chavali and Directors Mrs. Chitra Kumar, Mr. Ravi S Vasu, Mr. Shankar Pichaimuthu and Mrs. Suseela Denduluri. The new Board took charge, with the blessings of Goddess Meenakshi, after the traditional ceremonial hand over function at the main temple on the New Year’s Day at noon.

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SUDOKU/MOVIE REVIEWS Place a number in the empty boxes in such a way that each row across, each column down and each 9-box square contains all of the numbers from one to nine.

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‘Turtle’: Essential Viewing for a Simple Tale By Archika Khurana

CRITIC’S RATING: 3.0/5 STORY: ‘Turtle,’ inspired by Rajasthani literature writer Vijaydan Detha’s works, depicts a simple story of a farmer trying to save his village from drought. REVIEW: Set in a droughtstricken village in Rajasthan, ‘Turtle,’ written and directed by debutant Dinesh S Yadav, became the first Rajasthani-language film to win a National Award. The film begins with a hamlet experiencing a water shortage, prompting residents to flock to Shambhu (Amol Deshmukh) to purchase water to meet their basic needs. In contrast, Ramkaran Choudhary (Sanjay Mishra) aka Dadda refuses to pay for water and instead digs a well. He also had a personal motivation: the birth of his grandson, Ashok (Yash Rajasthani), coincided with the village’s wells drying up, prompting locals to refer to him as ‘Akali’ (unlucky). And Dadda is determined to debunk the notion that his grandson is jinxed. Will he achieve success with his mission, or will the villagers make him fail in his attempt? The screenplay is straightforward and character-driven, with the protagonist highlighting the issue of the water crisis and attempting to resolve it to the best of his abilities. It also sheds light on the prevalent practice of child marriage at the time. For instance,

Sajjan Singh has complete faith in Dadda’s ability to bring water, which he proves by arranging the marriage of his little daughter Rina to Dadda’s grandson, Ashok. They’re supposed to marry once the village has water. The film was mostly shot in the drought-prone villages of Kudli, Phagi, and Dehlon, giving it a genuine feel. Additionally, the background music by Parag Chhabra complements the narrative, especially the song “Ram bharose kismat teri ram bharose tu”. In this folktale, a turtle is metaphorically depicted digging the earth to deepen the water. Sanjay Mishra essays Ramkaran Choudhary, an aged farmer who is trying to save his village from drought. He shines in his role as a pivotal character and once again displays his mettle. Hari (played by Ankit Anil Sharma) and his wife (played

by Monica Sharma) are convincing as Dadda’s dutiful son and daughter-in-law, respectively. The child actors who play Ashok and Rina are both innocent and sensible. They regard each other as husband and wife and are willing to go the extra mile for one another. Ramnath Choudhary Algoja, a man with a long moustache, occasionally appears and charms the audience by playing the flute from his nose. Dinesh S Yadav’s film effectively addresses the issue of water scarcity and emphasises the importance of water conservation. Even the end credits manage to deliver a reality check with the help of certain facts and images about water shortages in various states. Such moving films are unquestionably essential viewing for anyone trying to grasp the magnitude of the problem. -- Times of India

‘Kaun Banegi Shikharwati’: Fun, Breezy Series Naseeruddin Shah, Soha Ali Khan, and Lara Dutta Bhupathi feature in the multi-starrer parody dramatisation web series ‘Kaun Banegi Shikharwati’, released today on Zee5. It’s a dramedy series that portrays a dysfunctional royal family in an unusual way. The plot centres around a former ruler with a broken family who has made a crazy scheme to reunite his little kids. Meanwhile, a tax probe into the castle’s hidden wealth is underway. Shikharwati is based on the lives of Shahi King Mrityunjay (Naseeruddin Shah) and his family, who lived all throughout India. With the help of their father, King Mrityunjaya, they are attempting to save Shikharwati. This is demonstrated in the story. There is a competition to become Shikharwati, the person responsible for bringing this family together. They create bonds with one another. They share a home and a battle. This web show has a great comedy. You people can watch this series with your family as well as friends because it is totally family entertainment. One should surely love this series as this is such a wholesome series. The dialogue will surely make you roll and laugh on the floor. The performances of the actors are brilliant. It’s worth watching. -- Times of India

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January 14, 2022


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