ON APRIL 16, Dr. Gagandeep “Cherry” Kang (Batch of ’81) became a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, a 360-year-old institution that awards eminent scientists for their exceptional contributions to science – she is the first woman from India to receive this extraordinary distinction. Dr. Kang has been recognized for her pioneering inter-disciplinary research on the development, transmission, and prevention of enteric infections among children, one outcome of which was the development of two indigenous vaccines against rotavirus. Today, the use of these two vaccines is helping save the lives of tens of thousands of children in India every year– and these vaccines have just become available through UNICEF to the world.
Dr. Kang’s recognition as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London not only brings attention to women’s contribution to science, but also highlights the importance of public health research in India and reaffirms CMC’s commitment to excellence in education, health, and research.
When asked about her newly conferred honor, Dr. Kang shared these thoughts, “Quite frankly, when I look at other medical institutions in India, I marvel that I have had the good fortune to wind up at CMC. CMC created the environment and opportunities for the kind of research I do. During my medical training, the community-orientation programs, with their exposure to the real world in India set the base for thinking about communities and prevention and not just about individual patients.” Dr. Kang’s medical path was driven by the desire to affect change within the communities that need it the most.
After her post-graduation in microbiology from CMC in 1991, Dr. Kang joined the Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory at the same institution, where she found the time and freedom to pursue her interests in enteric infections. She became one of the three Core Research Professors who receive full salary support from CMC with no commitments other than
Dr. Kang decided to focus her studies on rotavirus, a virus that causes gastroenteritis among children and that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), killed over 450,000 children in 2008. She spent a year in the UK and then the US furthering her studies on rotavirus. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship with one of the world’s leading experts on rotaviruses, Dr. Mary Estes, at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. Upon her return to India, Dr. Kang set up field studies on a scale that has never been done before to properly understand rotavirus infections in children.
Dr. Kang and her multi-disciplinary team studied issues specific to Indian children and designed complementary studies on water safety, vaccine trials, evaluation of vaccine efficacy and strategies to prevent the spread of diarrheal disease. One of the results of this work was the indigenous oral ROTAVAC® vaccine, a collaborative effort by multiple organizations, where Kang played a pivotal role. The vaccine licensed in 2014 is now beginning to be used beyond India by middle and lower-income countries to combat diarrheal disease.
Dr. Kang acknowledges the barriers to effective research in India, noting that there is insufficient investment to broadly achieve international research quality standards. However, for Dr. Kang the Fellowship of the Royal Society is such an honor because it recognizes the high quality of the clinical and public research conducted at CMC.
In an interview with India’s online news channel, News18 (an affiliate of CNN International) Dr. Kang commented that, “she was delighted that her research – designed and done in India – has been recognized. As a medical researcher trained in India at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, she believes that her training and ability is second to none.”
Currently on sabbatical from Christian Medical College (CMC), Dr. Kang is serving as the Executive Director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) in Faridabad, India and driving its mission of using science to support a healthy society. She is also the only Indian woman to be elected to the American Academy of Microbiology.