Dr Chandrima Shaha, a biologist and professor at the National Institute of Immunology, is all set to become the first woman to head the prestigious Indian National Science Academy (INSA). As president-elect of the INSA, she intends for science communication to be tackled “aggressively” and pseudoscience to be combatted when she takes charge as President in January 2020.
Dr Shaha has previously served the INSA as vice-president and director of the National Institute of Immunology, Delhi. Shaha often felt “invisible” as a young scientist sitting among her male colleagues.
“Initially, when we started our careers, nobody would shake hands with women scientists,” Shaha recalls to The Print, adding they would be completely “ignored” by her male colleagues. Even male scientists that were married to “career women” greeted everyone else but their female colleagues, she added.
Before setting her eyes on research and biology, in particular, Shaha was also a cricketer and a commentator for All India Radio, she told The Hindu. Playing cricket taught her the value of teamwork, she added.
Graduating with a Masters of Science from the University of Calcutta, she went on to complete her doctoral research in 1980 from the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology. At the University of Kansas Medical Centre, she carried out two years of post-doctoral research and remained at the Population Council of New York City for two more years. In 1984, Shaha joined the National Institute of Immunology as a researcher.
Today, the focus of Shaha’s research is communication pathways for cell death. Her laboratory has studied the precise mechanisms of cell death and the role that signalling pathways play in regulating cell death. A parasite known as Leishmania, and cancer cells, are model organisms that Shaha uses in her research. Leishmania causes kala-azar (a.k.a black fever or leishmaniasis) is a vectorborne disease that affects the abdomen — understanding how these cells die can help kill/treat the disease.
Other Council Members of Biology field selected for year 2019 are: Professor V Chandrasekhar, Professor JP Khurana, Professor Gaiti Hasan, Professor Subrata Sinha, Professor Manju Bansal, Professor Amitabha Chattopadhyay, Professor Debashish Chowdhury, Professor Aparna Dutta Gupta, Professor Rentala Madhubala, Dr HK Majumder, Dr SWA Naqvi, Professor GVR Prasad, Professor Shobhona Sharma, Professor Yashwant Singh, Dr RV Sonti, Professor GC Mishra and Professor R Ramamurthi.