Monday, July 22, 2024

Trailblazer at the forefront of India’s battle against Covid-19

New Delhi, Nov 1 (IANS/ 101 Reporters) Dr. Minal Dakhave Bhosale’s passion for public health burned bright from an early age. This led her to become the driving force behind the development of a groundbreaking Covid-19 testing kit at a young age of 33.

The urgency was palpable then, as India was grappling with the pandemic’s intensity and global scrutiny over its testing capabilities. However, Mylab Discovery Solutions, Pune, managed to launch the kit in March 2020, within weeks of recognising the need.

“Since childhood, it has been very clear to me that I wanted to work in public health,” reveals Bhosale (36), as her three-year-old daughter, Jasvee, peacefully colours some drawings next to her.

In early 2020, as the world grappled with the rapid spread of Covid-19, Dr Minal Bhosale led the charge at Mylab Discovery Solutions in developing and launching India’s first Indian homegrown testing kit.

Interestingly, the Covid-19 test kit is not all that Bhosale delivered that week in March 2020. She submitted the kit and necessary documents to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) for evaluation at 6.30 p.m., and she was admitted to the hospital at 7 p.m. the same day. Her daughter was born the next morning via a scheduled C-section.

“It was a risky pregnancy, with the last two months being especially difficult,” Bhosale recalls. During her pregnancy, she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, required hundreds of injections, and was hospitalised multiple times. She continued working despite medical advice to the contrary.

“Although I was working, I took every precaution for my safety. My husband supported me because he knows I cannot just sit at home and stew in my own frustration,” she laughs.

In February 2020, she worked remotely on the Covid-19 kit, while participating in daily conference calls with her colleagues. By March, just days before she was scheduled to give birth, the kit was in high demand.

“I received approximately 40 calls just before my delivery,” she exclaims, adding that she was confident in her team and their product, despite the fact that everyone was under great pressure to deliver.

Charting her path to success

Successful people all have one thing in common: they have unique and resilient ways of overcoming obstacles and turning things around. Bhosale’s story is no different. Plagued by health issues since childhood, with frequent bouts of abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting, she was curious about the intricacies of her anatomy to determine what was wrong with her.

Being a bright student of her school in Pune, she decided that a career in medicine was the way forward. However, after completing class 12, she realised that the high cost of medical education would burden her middle-class family. Her father operates a modest school bag store, while her mother is a homemaker. She and her two siblings, an older sister and a younger brother, were always encouraged to study by their parents, despite their own lack of higher education. Undeterred by the cost, her father urged her to prepare for the medical entrance exams. Acutely aware that her family could not afford it, she decided against it.

She may have given up her dreams of becoming a medical doctor, but she did not quit science.

“I sought a career in science and public health, so that I could at least learn about infectious diseases, if not the entire human body,” she shares.

In college, she was accepted to both biotechnology and pharmacy courses, but the wider career options of biotechnology appealed to her.

She joined BSc Biotechnology course in Pune’s Sinhgad College of Science. After graduating in 2007, she enrolled in MSc Virology course at the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune. After completing the course in 2009, she joined NIV as she felt that working there would take her closer to her goal of a career in public health.

During her NIV stint, the swine flu epidemic broke out and Bhosale played a crucial role in diagnosis and related development of respiratory infections.

She participated in sequencing the genomes of the samples that tested positive for the infection. Overall, she sequenced and uploaded 600 viral genome sequences in GenBank, a genetic sequencing database maintained by the US National Institutes of Health.

She was actively involved in testing the positive samples for resistance against common drugs. For her research participation during the swine flu outbreak, the Rotary Club of Pune conferred her with a Vocational Excellence Award.

After completing her MSc, Bhosale took PhD fellowship examinations in the country as well as exams that would finance an overseas PhD.

“I was eager to pursue a PhD abroad because I was the top student in high school and college. Even during my MSc, I was the runner-up at the university,” she explains.

However, Bhosale was diagnosed with uterine fibroids and medication failed to alleviate her severe pain. She underwent emergency laparoscopic surgery during which the doctors removed a fibroid weighing one kg from her uterus.

Within a month of her surgery, she was back, working constantly on the subject of her interest. She eventually received a job offer from Mylab Discovery Solutions.

“I simply discarded the idea of a PhD at that time,” she admits.

Starting from scratch

Her journey with Mylab Discovery Solutions began in 2014, when she became the facility’s first employee. She recalls how they started from scratch and how her training and its implementation proved useful in those early stages. The company gradually expanded its workforce and developed innovative diagnostic solutions.

“Our vision was always to work on something innovative and extremely crucial, yet unavailable, to the society. Otherwise, we are dependent on international companies,” she explains.

In fact, the Covid-19 test devised by Bhosale’s team cost only Rs 1,200, which was less than half of what India was paying to import test kits.

“It brought me immense joy to be able to contribute in devising a solution to society,” she says.

She describes how this extraordinary experience has bolstered her confidence: “This experience taught me that if my mind says ‘yes’, I am capable of accomplishing anything. I have the determination to push myself to mental and physical extremes, which makes me more confident and stronger than ever before.”

After careful consideration of her background and contributions to society, California Public University granted her an honorary PhD in 2021, in recognition of her monumental effort. She happily admits that it fulfilled her dream of getting a PhD.

Bhosale’s determination and work ethic reverberate through her team.

Payal Bhatnagar, the quality assurance manager at Mylab and a member of Bhosale’s team for the past two years, shares: “Dr Bhosale always motivates the team and provides moral support. She acknowledges and encourages everyone’s efforts. She even encourages us to conduct a literature review to determine the requirements of the healthcare industry.”

Bhatnagar elaborates that Bhosale is not only technically competent, but also displays excellent project management skills through her proper allocation of work among team members and the training of workers. According to her, the manner in which Bhosale manages the team inspires everyone to perform significantly better.

“Her research is not limited to a single topic. She is involved in many core areas, including infectious diseases, genetic testing and artificial intelligence. She is able to juggle at least four or five projects at a time, and she does a fantastic job at it,”Bhatnagar adds.

Balancing act

It is not easy to juggle such a demanding profession with motherhood and other family responsibilities.

Bhosale was advised by many, including her doctors, to put her career on hold and focus on her child during her pregnancy.

While acknowledging their perspective, she admits to independently making decisions for herself.

“My family has always supported me, but after the fifth month of my pregnancy, my parents were a little worried and had asked me to focus on my baby,” she says.

“But they also know how their child is,” she smiles, with a twinkle in her eye.

“I would say my work-life balance is 50-50.”

Her message to girls and young women who wish to pursue science research would be to have confidence in themselves. “You are a superwoman; you are amazing; you are a divine child of the universe; and you can achieve anything,” she asserts.

“Difficulties are not meant to demolish us, but rather to reveal our latent potential. So, we must be strong enough to show them that we can be challenging too!”

As the world continues to battle challenges, Bhosale’s story stands as a reminder that within the realm of science, within the core of our humanity, lies the power to reshape the world.

(This piece was originally published by Rukhmabai Initiatives, an endeavour by 101Reporters)



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