Upendranath Brahmachari: The Indian leading scientist whose life-saving discovery saved lives was unable to win a Nobel Prize or become a part of distinguished institutions like the Royal Society and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The name of Upendranath Brahmachari or his monumental achievement seldom comes up in history or general knowledge classes. He doesn’t figure in the list of Nobel laureates from India despite earning two nominations. The leading scientist and physicist of his time has been long forgotten as did the importance of his life-saving discovery. But back in the day, the Indian doctor was responsible for saving lakhs of lives across continents from China to France. He helped humanity fight back against a dangerous disease with over 90 percent death rate. However, he was arguably denied the recognition and prestige he deserved even at the time. It has since been argued that there were controversial reasons behind it.
Dr Brahmachari was a leading doctor and scientist in Bengal who had studied at the Presidency College and University of Calcutta. Going from graduation in maths and chemistry to studying medicine and surgery, he earned his MD in 1902 and PhD in 1904. He worked at the Dhaka Medical School and then the Campbell Medical School in Calcutta where he took up the challenge to find a cure for black fever or kala-azar, a fatal parasitic epidemic which had killed millions in many countries. The parasitic disease blackened a victim’s skin and targeted organs like liver and spleen. If left untreated, it led to death.
Dr Brahmachari worked for 20 years to find a cost-effective cure without side effects. Working in a small room without electricity and proper water supply, he discovered Urea Stibamine in 1920. It reversed the fortunes of humanity in the face of 90 percent death toll for black fever to 90 percent rate of success. He then ensured that many hospitals got his cure for free to fight the epidemic. This was before penicillin was discovered. The genius scientist also established Asia’s first blood bank in 1935 once wrote about his discovery, “I shall never forget that room where Urea Stibamine was discovered. The room where I had to labour for months without a gas point or a water tap and where I had to remain contented with an old kerosene lamp for my work at night…”
Dr Brahmachari reportedly earned six Nobel nominations for his work. Once in 1929 alongside the famous Sigmund Freud and five times in 1942. He, however, never won. In 1942, when he got five nominations, there was no Nobel Prize conferred in the medicine category. It has been argued that his ethnicity may have been the reason behind his omission at the highest stage, according to a report by The Print. Dr Brahmachari was never part of distinguished scientific institutions like the Royal Society and American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A defamation campaign was allegedly behind his omission at the Royal Society. Dr Brahmachari also researched about other diseases like influenza, leprosy, diabetes, malaria and syphilis.