It is now well known that late Dr. Subhash Mukherjee from Calcutta was India’s first test-tube baby maker. This article aims to clarify some points and show the magnificent munificence and righteousness of another great reproductive biologist Dr. T.C.Anand Kumar who reinstated Dr. Mukherjee with full glory.
Dr. Mukherjee did make India’s first test tube baby Durga Agarwal in 1978.He was actually the second person in the whole world to make a test tube baby. He was a little late , actually by few months after Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe’s first test tube baby in the world. This signifies Dr Subhas Mukherjee’s scientific efforts and novelty of the process. However he was not credited for what he achieved for a long time. Vilified by doctors in Kolkata he committed suicide. It was Dr TC Anand Kumar, a famous reproductive biologist who made India’s first documented test tube baby in Bombay in 1986, found out Dr Mukherjee’s work while attending science congress in Kolkata. Dr Anand Kumar later declared that it was not him, but Dr Subhas Mukherjee who should be credited for India’s first test tube baby (1). There are ample evidences of Dr. Mukherjee’s published work which Dr.T.C.Anand Kumar appended in the end of his article in Current Science (1). Moreover Dr. Anand Kumar discussed Dr. Mukherjee’s techniques in details and how it differed from Dr. Robert Edward and Steptoe’s work (2).
It was in a 6 page long historical note in the leading Indian science journal “Current Science” published in 1997, Dr.T.C.Anand Kumar relinquished glory to Subhash Mukherjee (1). Dr.Anand Kumar was the director of Institute for Research in Reproduction in Bombay [now known as National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH)] when birth of Harsha, supposedly India’s first test-tube baby was declared in 1986. He was also a reproductive biologist par excellence. He mentions that he was unaware of Mukherjee’s achievements and clarified beyond doubt in that landmark article that it was Mukherjee, not him, who was responsible for producing India’s first test tube baby Durga Agarwal in 1978 in Calcutta (1). Rarely do we come across such liberal and honest-to-the-core soul in a highly competitive world who can give away his laurels to the deserving one. By relinquishing his glory Dr TC Anand Kumar displayed his nobility.
Secondly it is also not true that the ICMR and Indian medical fraternity have not corrected this historical error of omission of Mukherjee’s achievements. The website of the Dr. Subhas Mukherjee Memorial Reproductive Biology Research Centre in Kolkata declares that in 2002 ” The Indian Council of Medical Research acknowledge the contributions of Subhas Mukherjee with regard to the work on IVF and recorded it in their document “National Guidelines for Accreditation, Supervision and Regulations of ART Clinics in India”.”(3).
It is pertinent to note that Indian scientists were always at par with their Western counterparts in the field of IVF. Prof. Robert Edwards, 2010 Nobel laureate for medicine in the field of IVF went to the same place, Edinburgh to study reproductive physiology as did Dr.Mukherjee. Prof Edwards depended on natural menstrual cycle to collect ovum whereas Dr.Mukherjee used the hormone gonadotrophin to stimulate ovum production. Freezing of embryo in liquid nitrogen and implantation of fertilized ovum in next cycle was another innovation from Mukherjee’s side (2). It should not be forgotten that IVF is still the only method to make embryonic stem cell. Stem cells are rage these days due to the infinite hope raised by their therapeutic value in treating neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, burns, fatal anemia, blindness etc. Though embryonic stem cell research is embroiled in moral and ethical issues and fulcrum is now bent towards pluripotent stem cell, still ease of IVF procedure and procurement of embryonic stem cells make IVF a mainstay for stem cell research. IVF is also the main way to clone animals. Dolly, the cloned sheep that grabbed popular attention in 1997 would not have been made without IVF. It appears IVF has far-reaching impact and without the pioneering work of Edwards, Steptoe, Mukherjee etc IVF would not have come this far.
Dr.T.C.Anand Kumar passed away in January, 2010 (4). It is surprising that Bengal, otherwise known for its progressive and liberal attitude, vilified Mukherjee and cornered him to commit a suicide. Loosely based on his life Ramapada Chowdhury, a Bengali writer wrote a novel “Avimanyu”. Mr.Chowdhury likened Dr.Mukherjee’s life as claustrophobic as Avimanyu, the Mahabharata character suffered. Tapan Sinha’s “Ek doctor ki maut” was in turn based on this novel. I remember one newspaper report of 2006 published in Anandabazar Patrika wherein it was written that Dr.Mukherjee’s wife was impoverished and uncared for even though his students were minting money from this IVF business in Kolkata that this man spawned. Such is life. Restitution of Subhash Mukherjee’s glory actually came from a quarter least expected. It was not from Bengal intelligentsia but from Dr.T.C.Anand Kumar of Mumbai. And that makes Dr.T.C.Anand Kumar so special to the Bengalis of Kolkata!
1. T.C.Anand Kumar (1997).Architect of India’s first test-tube baby:Dr.Subhash Mukherjee(16 January 1931 to 19 July 1981).Current Science, vol 72,no.7,pg 526-531
2. T.C.Anand Kumar (2004). In vitro fertilization in India. Current Science, vol 86, no.2, pg 254-256
4. Rajvi H. Mehta. (2010) Dr T.C. Anand Kumar - a doyen in reproductive biology. Indian J Med Res 131, March 2010, pg 466-467