Interviewer: Darina Velcheva
Translator: Milena Popova
Dr. George Nikov Chaldakov was born on 23rd February 1940 in Burgas. He graduated in Medicine in December 1966 in Varna, Bulgaria. Since 1970 he has been working at the Laboratory of Electron Microscopy, later renamed Laboratory of Cell Biology, which is a part of the Department of Anatomy and Histology of Medical University, Varna. Since 1998 he has been a guest-researcher at the Institute of Cell Biology and Neurobiology at the National Research Council in Rome, Italy.
He is the first scientist in the world who conceptualized as adipobiology the science of molecules-structures-functions (MSF) of adipose (fat) tissue in health and disease. In 2014 he was awarded with the Honorary Blue Ribbon Sign of Medical University, Varna and was elected member of the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences (FIACS).
Dr. Chaldakov is the editor-in-chief of the international scientific journals Biomedical Reviews and Adipobiology and one of the editors of Cell Biology International. He is the Chairman of the Bulgarian Society for Cell Biology (BGSCB) and the International Symposium on Adipobiology and Adipopharmacology (ISAA), the fourth of which is to be held from 28 to 31 October 2015 in Bucharest, Romania. Since 1990 BGSCB, in collaboration with Medical University, Varna, has been organizing Biomedical Forum, a programme of continuing medical education (CME), consisted of 8-10 state-of-the-science (SOS) lectures per academic year.
Dr. Chaldakov often writes op-eds (short for "opposite the editorial page") articles expressing his own opinion, published in journals and newspapers such as InSpiro journal, the Compass newspaper and the electronic editions BurgasPlus, Nessebar-news, BurgasNews, EuroChicago.com, Fakel.bg and Literaturen sviat (Literary World). He is the author of four books of essays and one autobiographical book. Dr Chaldakov has published 198 research articles, reviews and book chapters, having 1218 citations (according to Research Gate, 22 August 2015).
The reason for this interview with Dr. Chaldakov is the release of the second, extended edition of his textbook of Cell Biology intended for students of Medicine, Dental Medicine and Biology, as well as for all curious PhD students, physicians, university teachers, and biologists. The textbook consists of 340 pages of text, micrographs, schemes, tables as well as science-in-fiction (science in short stories).
Dr. Chaldakov, what is the main objective of your textbook of Cell Biology?
My aim is to help medical students including PhD students, young doctors and biologists pass from information to knowledge on cellular and matrix MSF in order, in a meaningful way, to enable them to get to know and understand pathogenesis – cellular and molecular mechanisms - of diseases and respectively their prevention and therapy. I told them "You know I would like to knowledge
you." Certainly, we should know the scientific facts, however, I believe that above all, we need them in order to embed these facts into hypotheses, principles and knowledge. One of the objectives of didactics and scientific research, as Arthur Schopenhauer says, is "not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees". That is why I tried to write Cell Biology on a conceptual, integrated and interactive basis, a sort of Translational Cell Biology.
There are already more than 50 years of research on your record. How come you set out precisely on the way of science that you have been following continually for so many years?
Yes, in 2012, thanks to the financial support of the Mayor of Burgas, I published my autobiographical book in English - George 50 Years in Research. Autobiographic Sketch. Curiosity, handed down and taught to me by my parents, has inspired me to get in touch with great teachers – Dr. Asen Hadzhiolov Jr. at the Department of Biochemistry in Sofia, and from my third year of study - with Prof. Delcho Zhelyazkov and Dr. Petko Uzunov at the Department in Pharmacology in Varna. Today I take pride in having so many talented students, most of whom have become famous scientists and doctors, working in Varna, St. Louis (Missouri), Göttingen, Kanazawa, Sofia, New York, Bogota, New Orleans (Louisiana), Cambridge, Tokyo, Atlanta (Georgia), Cologne. And I would like to mention some of them: Peter Ghenev, Tanya Tenkova-Heuser, Krikor Dikranian, Anton Tonchev, Danko Georgiev, Kosta Kostov, Iliyan Ivanov, Vanya Goranova, William Moreno, Rouzha Pancheva, Wale Sulaiman, Kamen Valchanov, Boryana Popivanova, Yulia Yosifova–Karol, Galina Marinova.
When in the autumn of 1960 you set off to Sofia to study Medicine, your father had given you a plate where in red calligraphic letters on blue background was inscribed WHAT DID I ARRIVE HERE FOR? The answer "To study, not to drink!" helped you to become a good doctor and scientist. You have handed down the plate to your son, and he will pass it on to your grandson. You call this "… flow of genes-perpetuum mobile of life…" What is the most important thing that children need to learn from their parents?
Healthy lifestyle and love for knowledge, CURIOSITY (in Bulgarian, lyuboznanie – an unique symbiosis of "love" and "knowledge") - after "mummy" and "daddy" – this, in my soul and mind, is the most cherished Bulgarian word. The family and friends, too, of course! Those who I call Brain-and-Heart Friends (BHF) - three interwoven words that make up the core of my concept of life, which is already known in Bulgaria and abroad.
What has influenced your development as a personality and scientist most of all?
My parents, teachers and friends. That is why my five published books of essays so far and the textbook of Cell Biology begin like that: "Plato learned from Socrates, Aristotle - from Plato, Alexander of Macedonia - from Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzsche - from Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky, Carl Jung - from Sigmund Freud, George Palade – from Albert Claude, Günter Blobel - from George Palade, Luigi Aloe - from Rita Levi-Montalcini, Marco Fiore - from Luigi Aloe, Hristo Photev – from Ivan Peychev, Petya Dubarova – from Hristo Photev... The author of this book - from his parents, teachers and friends."
And what do you think is the formula for health?
Modern health doctrines are predictive, preventive and personalized (precision) medicine. In short, "the formula for health" is a healthy lifestyle. It involves a healthy diet, brain and physical activity and absolutely no smoking, no narcotics/drugs. I gave up smoking 10 years ago, I had been a fool for smoking for 40 years. Do you happen to know which the best way to quit smoking is - never start smoking. The same goes for drugs and other harmful to health habits. The example of parents is really important - I remember neither my father smoking, nor my mother. My wife does not smoke, neither does my son - this is how we've brought him up. My grandson Nikifor, who is now 12 years old, most probably will not become a smoker, either. After all, the Bulgarian Aesop - Radoi Ralin - warned us a long time ago: "Smoking is an internship for impotence." Then, in the early 1980s, I wrote an article in the Kultura (Culture) newspaper, entitled "Radoi Ralin is Right!" Please note, to exteriorize such a statement for a man being one of the greatest dissidents in these years in Bulgaria was somehow a courageous action. The article's subtitle was: "Smoking or sexual potence, choose for yourself." A lot of male students quit smoking, and lots of female students thanked them for that.
I wish this marijuana, which is being propagated lately, did not become legal, just like all other obsessions, "this purposeless bulimia, this orgy of desires" (Umberto Eco), preached by neoliberalism, such as gay parades, gay marriages ... I have elaborated on the pending biosocial crisis in my article "Quo vadis, Homo sapiens? What is to be seen through Overton window", published in July 2015 in the online edition of Literaturen sviat (Literary World).
I have read somewhere about the beneficial effect of cannabinoids...
Marijuana is a part of the neoliberal culture, which in my view as I said before, causes lots of troubles to mankind and the society. As far as cannabinoids and their receptors are concerned, well, this is a whole science, and it should be done under medical prescription rather than being so "liberal." Just like the populist electioneering of some politicians on "parents' informed consent" on vaccination or non-vaccination of their children. Long ago, in 1750, the famous English literary critic and lexicographer Samuel Johnson wrote: "Populism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." He is also the one who uttered the wisdom: "There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn." But only after learning your lessons, after doing your work – thus I admonish my students incessantly. I remind them, in the way my parents did, the "success formula": WHAT DID I ARRIVE HERE FOR?
To be continued…