India is a powerhouse for sustainable vaccine supply in the world: Dr Gagandeep Kang

India is a powerhouse for sustainable vaccine supply in the world: Dr Gagandeep Kang

Biologist Dr Gagandeep Kang was the first Indian woman scientist to be elected Fellow to the 360-year-old Royal Society, London. Kang was part of the Royal Society of London's announcement of the list of 51 eminent scientists elected to its fellowship in the year 2019.

Dr Kang has been working on diarrhoeal diseases in children for over 30 years and has helped develop Rotavac, India’s first indigenous vaccine against the rotavirus that causes severe diarrhoea.  Her research focuses on enteric infectious diseases and the consequences of intestinal infection on immune response, gut function and nutrition in children.

Over the past 20 years she has built a strong inter-disciplinary research and training program, where young faculty and graduate students are mentored before embarking on independent research careers. She leads a multi-disciplinary research team that conducts comprehensive and complementary studies in the description, prevention and control of diarrheal disease using state-of-the-art tools in the laboratory, hospital and the field. The laboratory has studied human and bovine-human reassortant rotaviruses in children with gastroenteritis in hospitals, the neonatal nursery and the community. Complementary studies on water safety, vaccines and treatment trials have evaluated interventions to effectively prevent or reduce diarrheal disease. Her work has led to practical interventions to prevent diarrhea, and continues to lay the groundwork for further interventions in the form of treatment techniques and vaccines.

Biologist Dr Gangadeep Kang 

You were instrumental in India getting a vaccine once, do you think, India has the ability to do it again with Corona?

India is a powerhouse for sustainable vaccine supply in the world. With the investment and facilitation of the government there is no reason why we cannot make many more new vaccines.

How is India equipped to deal with infectious disease?

We have many vertical disease programmes for control of infectious diseases, HIV, TB, malaria, vector borne disease--these are under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare . We also have efforts from many stakeholders in new approaches to treatment and prevention, such as the many science institutes of the Ministry of Science and Technology, particularly the Department of Biotechnology. The institute I am at, the DBT-Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, works on tuberculosis, viral infections and antimicrobial resistance.

What is the role of traditional medicine in treating this virus and other diseases?

Traditional medicine from China resulted in treatment for malaria that has hugely helped malaria control in the past 20 years. Traditional medicine has many undiscovered secrets. I do not know if we will find one for this virus, but we should certainly try. We have programs based on natural products with companies that make Ayurvedic drugs trying to find out the mechanism of action.

Ancient India had been in the forefront of science and technology and medicine. What do you think should be done to revive the scientific temper among youth?

India led the world in science and medicine because society and rulers respected and supported science and scientists. Today, we need to understand that without investments in science and technology, no nation becomes an economic power. This investment needs to be all across the spectrum, including encouraging curiosity and exploration among our young people. Training of teachers, well equipped facilities and time set aside for exploration are important for school and college students, but society as a whole would benefit from high quality museums.

What does becoming Fellow to the Royal Society, London mean to your work?

I think this is an important recognition of the importance and impact of the work that we have done for children’s health in India. Too often, Indian media denigrates work done in India and ascribes all kinds of ulterior motives to researchers.

My team and I have worked hard for over two decades to build relationships with the communities we work with and for, and this recognition of the quality of the work we have done together makes us feel good that our contributions are being recognised.

As a very influential Indian scientist, what is your message to the rest of the scientific community in India.

Work together for protecting and promoting health. We need to focus on ambitious, high quality research in whichever field we choose and where we are in the spectrum from discovery to impact on society. Scientists need to communicate outside their own circles and speak up and stand up for science especially when there are nay-sayers who capture public attention.