A young woman from Pune, Minal Dakhave Bhonsle created India’s first coronavirus testing kit. A virologist who made this happen in record time. There are many amazing women from India who are virologists and researchers leading key studies across the world. Although only 14% of researchers in India are women, many are making big impact in virology, which is a branch of science that studies virals and virus-like agents.
Here is a list of Indian female virologists that are an inspiration for every girl out there.
Minal Dhakhave Bhonsle
Bhonsle recently captured the headlines as she created the first-ever coronavirus testing kit. She is the research and development chief at Pune-based Mylab Discovery Solutions. She placed the country’s needs before her own. She submitted the test kit for evaluation to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) and then to FDA, before going in for her delivery. She had started working for the test kit in February, during the last trimester of her pregnancy. She gained a lot of experience at NIV, Pune working on the swine flu disease.
The testing kit delivered by Bhosle’s team will cut short the time taken for delivering the results for coronavirus tests by about five and a half hours.
The first Indian woman to be elected as Fellow of the Royal Society, London, Gagandeep Kang, has been a leading researcher in viral infections in children. She has worked on diarrhoea diseases and public health in India since the early 1990s. She did extensive research on the rotavirus and was the key scientist behind the development of Rotovac, a vaccine from Bharat Biotech International that targets diarrhoea. She is known for combining her scientific discoveries with policy-making to deliver holistic results on many vaccines.
She was presented with the Infosys Prize for her researches and discoveries. She has published over 300 scientific papers and is on editorial boards for several journals, apart from her regular contributions to various research funding agencies. Her work has led to her being hailed as the “vaccine godmother” of India.
HS Savithri works at the Department of Biochemistry, IISc, Bangalore, on molecular plant virology, enzymology and protein chemistry. She loves exploring different scientific avenues with her students. She has organized a science congress for school children, field trips, summer camps, guidance classes and interactive sessions. She is the recipient of the P.S. Sarma Memorial award and A Krishna Murthy award of the Society of Biological Chemists.
She was extremely good at experimental science which requires immense practice and succeeded in making an assay work in the first attempt as a part of the first task of her Ph.D. She did structural work on viruses along with starting to determine the complete genome sequence of viruses, with the help of her husband, MRN Murthy and Ph.D. counselor N. Appaji Rao.
A professor at the Saraswati Medical and Dental College, Lucknow, Mathur’s areas of interest are microbiology, virology and immunology. She studied the persistence of Japanese encephalitis (JE) virus and revealed crucial facts about the same. The phenomenon of the virus being transmitted to the foetus during pregnancy was discovered by Mathur and this led to to the identification of a series of mechanisms to explain the activation of the virus in the human body.
Mathur has been awarded many awards for her knowledge and skill in the field, which include the Senior National Woman Bio-scientist Award, the Hari Om Alembic Research Award, and the Om Prakash Bhasin Research Award. She did her post-graduation in Pathology and Microbiology from King George’s Medical College, Lucknow and later joined the same institution as a faculty. Not only did she impart education but she also brought the Department of Virology to new levels.
While she grew up in Kolkata in India, virologist Prof Polly Roy went to New York for further studies on a scholarship. She is now based in London and has served as Professor of Virology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine since 2001. Roy is known for her pioneering research work that opened up much better understanding of ribonucleic acid viruses, especially the complex Bluetongue virus.
She began her own Blurtongue research group after her post-doctoral work. The virus affects sheep and cattle. She has led advances in the development of improved diagnostic assays, more effective virus-like protein (VLP) vaccines, vaccines for Bluetongue and African Horse sickness virus (AHSV).
Roy’s work has been recognised around the world and she has received many awards including; the Officer of the Order of the British Empire for service in Virus research; Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences; the Indian Science Congress General President’s Gold medal, awarded by the Prime Minister of India and she was a Finalist of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) ‘Innovator of the Year’ Award.
“I think it’s very important as women can contribute as much as men in science if they are given the right opportunities. The experience in my own lab, from working with men and women, is that women are generally more organised, which enables them to achieve more in research,” Roy says in an interview.
Roy has been a go-getter and she says that’s how we all need to be. “I learnt from day one that you have to compete for everything, including research grant funding if you want to keep your research going. Disappointment does not discourage me, you have to keep going and try again and again.”
She heads the Agharkar Institute in Pune. She was at the National Institute of Virology for over 30 years where she finished her tenure as Director-In-Charge & Scientist G. She is a fellow of the Indian National Science Academy and the Indian Academy of Sciences. “I was heading the hepatitis group and dealt with several emerging viruses such as Chandipura, Chikungunya, Nipah, pandemic swine influenza and H5N1. Vaccine development and assessment, development of immunoassays and PCR-based diagnostics were important areas of my research. I worked on all hepatitis viruses, the main thrust being hepatitis E, the major problem of India. Environmental virology has been he other topic of interest. After my retirement, I served as a “consultant” for the Indian Council of Medical Research for one year and currently serve at Agharkar Research Institute, MACS as Agharkar Chair,” she notes.
Late Gita Ramjee
She fought viruses. She fought the toughest of them all thus far, HIV. Gita Ramjee, world-renowned virologist died after contracting COVID-19, on her return from London in April 2020. She was the first Indian-origin South African to have died after getting the novel coronavirus that has killed five people in South Africa. After her recent return from London, she apparently did not show any symptoms.
Gita Ramjee was a brilliant vaccine scientist and an HIV prevention research leader. Recently she had received accolades and awards for her work with viruses.
Ramjee, 50 was the Clinical Trials Unit Principal Investigator and Unit Director of the HIV Prevention Research Unit of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). She was based in Durban and had many talks and discussions around the world for which she often travelled. Read more about her.
Saavriti is an intern with SheThePeople.TV