Virologist Dr. Gagandeep Kang Becomes First Indian Woman to Be Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society UK
Dr. Gagandeep Kang named as a 2019 fellow of the Royal Society UK and Commonwealth | (Photo Credit: Infosys Foundation Video)

Mumbai, April 19: Dr. Gagandeep Kang, Executive Director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) and the current chair of the WHO Southeast-Asia region’s Immunisation Technical Advisory Group, has been named as a fellow of the Royal Society, London. Kang, a decorated virologist, is the first Indian woman scientist who has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, the oldest scientific academy in the world which has been in existence for 360 years.

The Royal Society is an independent scientific academy of the UK and the Commonwealth, dedicated to promoting excellence in science.

Kang’s work has straddled many disciplines as she has over the past 25 years, conducted research into the transmission, development and prevention of enteric infections among children. The virologist has played an instrumental role in developing two indigenous vaccines against rotavirus and typhoid. Kang played a leading role in the development of the rotavirus vaccine (to prevents lakhs of diarrhoeal deaths among children) project. The vaccine is scheduled to be a part of the universal immunisation programme for India but is undergoing additional trials. Her team is currently working out the disease burden.

“She and her collaborators built national rotavirus and typhoid surveillance networks. They established laboratories to support vaccine trials and conducted clinical trials of two WHO pre-qualified vaccines, made by two Indian companies. As the first woman Fellow of the Royal Society working in India, she is a trail-blazer,” commented K Vijayraghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government.

The WHO’s South East Asia Region Organisation (SEARO) estimates that globally the rotavirus kills approximately 453,000 children under the age of five every year, and of whom 1,27,000 children are from Southeast Asia and almost a lakh from India.

Meanwhile a statement on her biography from the Royal Society said, “She (Kang) is investigating the complex relationships infection, gut function and physical and cognitive development, and seeking to build a stronger human research in India,” while announcing the names of 51 distinguished scientists selected as fellows of arguably the world’s pre-eminent scientific academy.

Kang’s achievement is all the more remarkable as the representation of women in the field of STEM sciences is considered abysmal.

Dr. Kang commented on the honour and said her selection was also an acknowledgement of the high-quality research being carried out in Indian laboratories, according to Deccan Herald. “We don't see many women scientists around and very few in the leadership role. It’s not because women are less capable but because the system (science establishment) doesn't provide the necessary support in terms of flexible working hours or shifting of jobs…We can't wait for black swans to become the norm,” she added.

Apart from Kang, 82-year-old chairman of pharmaceutical major Cipla, Yusuf Hamied is among a host of Indian-origin experts honoured in the 2019 list of new fellows of the UK's Royal Society.

Among the other Indian-origin scientists elected as fellows this year include Prof Gurdyal Besra, Bardrick Professor of Microbial Physiology and Chemistry, Institute of Microbiology and Infection, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham; Prof Manjul Bhargava, R Brandon Fradd Professor of Mathematics, Department of Mathematics, Princeton University; Executive Director, Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, India; Prof Anant Parekh, Professor of Physiology, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford; and Prof Akashay Venkatesh, Professor, School of Mathematics, Institute for Advanced Study. (With PTI inputs)