Robert Edwards’ Nobel Prize Revives Memories of an Unsung Indian Pioneer

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While the world stands up to salute Robert Edwards for being acknowledged with the Nobel Prize, another pioneer of this field goes largely unnoticed. Subhash Mukherjee, an Indian physician, based in Kolkata, West Bengal, was part of a team comprising of Cryobiologist Sunit Mukherji and Gynecologist Dr. Saroj Kanti Bhattacharya, who managed to create India‟s first (and the world‟s second) “test tube baby” just 67 days after Robert Edwards, Patrick Steptoe and their team made the landmark breakthrough.

Dr.Subhash Mukhopadhyay: An Unsung Hero

However, instead of being given the accolades he deserved, Dr. Mukherjee was handed severe injustice (1). A Government-instituted “Expert Committee” denounced his work (2). He was denied leave to write his reports and present his work at a conference in Japan. He received much ridicule and resistance from his peers as well. The final straw came for him when he was transferred to the Institute of Ophthalmology as a Professor of Electrophysiology, thereby severing him from his research laboratory and team. He could
not bear the indignity being meted out to him and committed suicide in 1981.

The truth emerged when Dr. T.C. Anand, former Director, Institute of Research in Reproduction, Mumbai, and the official creator of the first Test Tube Baby in India, was handed Dr. Mukherjee‟s handwritten notes. He was gracious enough to acknowledge (3) that Dr. Mukherjee, and not him, was the man behind India‟s first successful IVF.

Three decades later, as the world recognizes the feat of Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, the name of Dr. Subhas Mukherjee is drowned out yet again.

1. Anand Kumar, T.C. The advent of medically assisted reproductive techniques in India. In: Allahabadia G.N., Basuray Das, G. Editors. The art and science of assisted reproductive techniques. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Taylor and Francis Group; 2004. p. 3-6
2. Bharadwaj, A. Conception politics: medical egos, media spotlights, and the contest over test tube firsts in India. In: Inhorn M.C., Balen F.V. Editors. Infertility around the globe: New thinking on childlessness, gender and reproductive technologies. 1st ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press; 2002. p. 315-33
3. Anand Kumar, T. C. Historical Notes: Architect of India‟s first test tube baby: Dr. Subhas Mukerji (16 January 1931 to 19 July 1981). Curr. Sci., 1997, 72, 526–531.

Skeptic Oslerphile, Scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases. Interests include: Emerging Infections, Public Health, Antimicrobial Resistance, One Health and Zoonoses, Diarrheal Diseases, Medical Education, Medical History, Open Access, Healthcare Social Media and Health2.0. Opinions are my own!


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