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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 11-13

Transdisciplinary research

Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication26-Feb-2020

Correspondence Address:
Girish Tillu
Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jdrr.jdrr_86_19

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How to cite this article:
Tillu G. Transdisciplinary research. J Dent Res Rev 2020;7, Suppl S2:11-3

How to cite this URL:
Tillu G. Transdisciplinary research. J Dent Res Rev [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Jan 27];7, Suppl S2:11-3. Available from: https://www.jdrr.org/text.asp?2020/7/5/11/278924

The DPU invited Dr. Girish Tillu to deliver a talk on transdisciplinary research in health at the inaugural session of this conference. This article is a summary of his talk.

Talking in this important conference on interdisciplinary research reminds me of this famous shloka from the Rigveda


Which means let the noble thoughts come to us from all possible directions! Let our thoughts flow free unhindered and germinate into innovative ideas.

We are living in an era of information explosion. Every knowledge discipline is expanding with very varied knowledge dimensions being studied. The challenge however is in utilizing knowledge for better education, research, practice, and development. This is the very reason we need discussion on transdisciplinary approaches more than any time before. In this context, I quote Konrad Lorenz from his work on natural history of human knowledge where he says – “Philosophers are people who know less and less about more and more, until they know nothing about everything. Scientists are people who know more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing.”

Evolution and knowledge both involve a growing perception of the outer world. Transdisciplinary approach is about this growing perception.

  • Jenesinus describes a continuum beginning from intradisciplinary to multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary with increasing levels of integration. Intradisciplinary work is within a single discipline, using common methodologies and with researchers speaking the “same” language. Intradisciplinary work is focused on a defined intellectual innerspace.
  • In a multidisciplinary work, people from different disciplines work together. Such work benefits from inputs from several disciplines and sharing of different perspectives. Multidisciplinary work serves the discipline which has initiated collaboration and involves a temporary interaction.
  • Interdisciplinary work involves a juxtaposition or integration of knowledge and methods from different disciplines. There is a synthesis of approaches and transfer of methods, and a new synergy is created. Interdisciplinarity brings a new level of integration, with breaking disciplinary boundaries and building bridges across disciplines.
  • Transdisciplinarity challenges to push the boundaries of thinking and spreads across, between, beyond, and outside disciplines. It creates unity of intellectual frameworks beyond the disciplinary perspectives and involves a new form of learning and formation of a new intellectual space. Transdisciplinarity is characterized by gradual cross-fertilization because of convergence, learning to know, to do, to be with, and to be. Transdisciplinarity is creating an intellectual outerspace
  • Transdisciplinary research is an 'approach' and not just an 'activity.' It requires a suitable mindset and not just a departmentalized thinking. Transdisciplinarity is more about coherence and not merely a combination. Transdisciplinary approach needs having an 'Open mind' than just 'sophisticated labs.' It is often a result of 'Opportunity' than 'compulsion.' Transdisciplinary approach is more a 'process' than a 'product.'

One wonders if we practice transdisciplinarity in medicine. Patient management involves a range of disciplines – anatomy, pharmacology, pathology, nutrition, microbiology, and psychology to name a few.

If one looks at the top-cited papers by disciplines, biology and laboratory techniques top it. For example, the paper by Lowry et al. titled 'Protein measurement with Folin phenol reagent' that was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 1951 ranked first with three lakh plus citations. You may have noted the transdisciplinarity in this paper; it is from biological chemistry.

Before moving onto a few case studies in transdisciplinary research, I would like to dwell a little on how extra ordinary creative ideas occur. Thoughts mature as “ideas.” It is often sudden spontaneous visions or even dreams that sprout creative ideas. Ideas come forth from cross-pollination from different fields. Ideation, the process of forming and relating ideas takes long preparation but can be expressed instantaneously!

We all are familiar with the Watson and Crick model of the DNA; I think it is one of the best examples of how transdisciplinary research leads to new fields. 'This was' was a one-page paper by Watson and Crick published in Nature in 1953 that describes the structure of DNA and illustrates how information is stored in organisms and how it is passed from generation to generation. This paper marked the origin of “molecular biology.”

Cross-pollination of ideas from different fields is an essential feature of transdisciplinarity. For example, 'the' seemingly simple plotting of rainfall and relative humidity against cases of influenza like illness in an Indian school by Gurav et al. in 2009 provided important clues to prevention and control of the H1N1 virus outbreak.

On the same lines, another interesting example of transdisciplinarity is the increasing work on “gut health.” Leading journals as BMC Medicine in 2011 published a debate article titled “Gut health: new objective in medicine?” by Stephan Bischoff and is today advancing the understanding of gut functions. It is no surprise to me, that the concept of diet as drug, that Ayurveda propagates since ancient times, stands very important from the view of gut health that is now understood as the basis for several key body functions as allergy prevention, immunity, nutrition, and even mood.

Lifestyle and behavioral medicine are rising in demand in recent times. Lifestyle medicine is a branch of medicine dealing with research, prevention, and treatment of disorders caused by lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical inactivity, and chronic stress. Behavioral medicine is an interdisciplinary field combining both medicine and psychology and is concerned with the integration of knowledge in the biological, behavioral, psychological, and social sciences relevant to health and illness. It is more than obvious that these rising fields are indeed transdisciplinary in nature. Dean Ornish is known for his research on lifestyle medicine, the broad range of fields that he has touched is noteworthy.

Another bunch of studies that have made a mark on the practice of medicine today are again interdisciplinary. For example, studies on walking and its effect on mortality showing the less men walked, more the likelihood of death. The Danish prospective cohort study showing the association between smaller thigh circumference and risk of death from cardiovascular disease provides simple measures for general practitioners to identify individuals at increased risk. In this connection, I recollect visiting the arts in medicine unit at the Motiff Cancer Centre at Tampa, USA, where they have a trolley loaded with materials for art work taken to hospitalized patients, allowing them to pick and engage in any art for their “healing.” I found this 'stepping out' of arts and medicine from their departments very interesting and important for “healing” rather than mere survival.

The work on the concept of “Prakriti” in Ayurveda using genomics lead to the field of AyuGenomics. My mentor Prof. Bhushan Patwardhan has been a pioneer in this field and it has been tremendous learning over the past few years on how transdisciplinary approach applied to Ayurveda has advanced knowledge and has been useful to what is now emerging as personalized medicine. Similarly, Ayurvedic biology has emerged as a new field and several initiatives have been undertaken to study Ayurvedic concepts from modern biological perspectives.

In a nutshell, transdisciplinary research involves not just a bridge but exploring the space between the disciplines and cross fertilization of ideas. Emergenceof thoughts, processes, structures, patterns, and properties is required and is based on our oneness with nature and thinking out of disciplinary boundaries. It is important to remember, in learning new perspectives from other disciplines in a transdisciplinary work, “unlearning” is often difficult but essential. I quote Acharya Charaka who says


meaning entire world is a teacher for the wise.

With this sharing, I would also like to mention and share examples of our transdisciplinary work at the Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health at the Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences, Savitribai Phule Pune University. We have been awarded the center of excellence by the Ministry of AYUSH to undertake preclinical study on the development of therapeutic adjuvants based on Ayurveda. We have a large network of institutions in India and USA collaborating with us in this study. We also undertake capacity building and secondary research. Interdisciplinary certificate courses such as “Integrative dietetics” and “Integrative health” are in much demand and we are about to launch another course on 'Innovative approaches to drug discovery'. We offer short student fellowships allowing students from diverse disciplines undertaking research in Ayurveda concepts; last year, our fellows were from Education, Biotechnology, Management, Ayurveda, and Microbiology to name a few, undertaking their projects on Ayurveda concepts. Our 3-day workshop on analytical techniques for AYUSH researchers, where we offered hands-on technical skills, received an overwhelming nationwide response. Last year, we conducted a one-month residential winter school on transdisciplinary research in health with 30 participants from 16 states from Ayurvedic and modern sciences; it has also been very successful.

Thus, a transdisciplinary perspective enriches academic programs, provides ideas for research, and makes our practices better.


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