Indira Nath
Born(1938-01-14)14 January 1938
Died24 October 2021(2021-10-24) (aged 83)
New Delhi, India
Alma materAIIMS, Delhi
Known forImmunology research, Leprosy eradication in India
AwardsPadma Shri,

L'Oreal-UNESCO award for Women in Science

Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award
Scientific career
InstitutionsAll India Institute of Medical Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, India

Indira Nath (14 January 1938 – 24 October 2021) [1] was an Indian immunologist. Her major contribution in medical science deals with mechanisms underlying immune unresponsiveness in man, reactions and nerve damage in leprosy and a search for markers for viability of the Leprosy bacillus. Prof. Nath's fields of specialisations are Immunology, Pathology, Medical biotechnology, and communicable diseases.[2][3]


Nath received her MBBS from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. She joined AIIMS as MD (pathology) after mandatory hospital training in the UK. During the 1970s, India has the world's largest number of leprosy patients of 4.5 million.[4]

In 1970, Nath was in the UK with a Nuffield Fellowship. During this period, she came to specialise in immunology. She worked in the area of infectious diseases, particularly leprosy, with Professor John Turk at the Royal College of Surgeons and Dr. RJW Rees at the National Institute for Medical Research, London.

She saw the importance of getting experience abroad but did not want to add to the brain drain out of India. She and her husband made a pact to return to India after 3 years abroad. She returned to India in the early 1970s.[5]

“Still, it was quite an exciting time to come back because you felt you could really play a role in building up research,” she said in an interview published on Nature Medicine in 2002.[5]

After coming back to India, she joined Professor Gursaran Talwar's Department of Biochemistry at AIIMS, which had just initiated immunology research in India. Later in 1980 she moved to the Department of Pathology and she founded and established Department Biotechnology (1986) at AIIMS. She retired in 1998 but continued to work at AIIMS as INSA-SN Bose Research Professor.

She was one of 100 scientists gathered by Rajiv Gandhi when he became Prime Minister to make suggestions to improve Indian science.[5]

She received DSc from Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris in the 2002. She was invited for the post of Dean of AIMST University in Malaysia and also as Director of Blue Peter Research Centre (Lepra Research Centre), Hyderabad.


Her research is focused on the cellular immune responses in human leprosy as well as nerve damage in the disease. Her work has also looked for indicators of the leprosy bacillus surviving.[6] She has over 120 publications, invited reviews, opinion/comments on recent developments in international journals. Her discovery and her pioneering work are a significant step towards the development of treatment and vaccines for leprosy.

On Leprosy

In a televised interview in the programme Eureka by India's state TV Doordashan, Indira said that the stigma around leprosy never affected her. She also mentions that the leprosy bug doesn't kill, calling it a clever bug that just wants to survive peacefully in the body. "So we should look at it kindly." She said: "Leprosy is in fact not infectious at all. In fact, cold, flu etc are much more infectious. The leprosy bug grows very slowly and it doesn't enter very quickly. The incubation period takes years." It is the nerve damage and the deformities you see on the body frightens patients, she adds.[7]

Thanks to World Health Organization (WHO)'s introduction of Multi Drug Therapy introduced in India in 1982, the disease incidence in the country saw a reduction from a prevalence rate of 57.8/10,000 in 1983 to less than 1/10,000 by the end of 2005 when India declared to have reached the WHO target of elimination as a public health problem.[8] Contributions of scientists like Indira have been instrumental in this progress.


Year of award or honour Name of award or honour Awarding organisation
2003 Silver Banner Tuscany, Italy
2003 Chevalier Ordre National du Merite Government of France
2002 Women in Science (Asia Pacific)award L'Oreal UNESCO
1999 Padmashri[9] Government of India
1995 RD Birla Award
1995 Cochrane Research Award UK Government
1994 Basanti Devi Amir Chand Award ICMR
1990 Om Prakash Bhasin Award
1988 Clayton Memorial Lecture Award
1987 1st Nitya Anand Endowment Lecture Award INSA
1984 Kshanika Award ICMR
1983 Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Award Government of India
1981 JALMA Trust Oration ICMR


She was elected Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, India, Allahabad (1988), Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore (1990),[10] Indian National Science Academy (INSA; 1992),[11] National Academy of Medical Sciences[12] (India) (1992), Royal College of Pathology (1992) and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) (1995). She was Member, Scientific Advisory Committee to Cabinet, Foreign Secretary INSA (1995–97), Council Member (1992–94, 1998–2006) and Vice President (2001–03) of the National Academy of Sciences (India), Allahabad, and chairperson, Women Scientists Programme, Department of Science and technology, India (2003).

She was awarded the Padma Shri by Government of India in 1999,[13] and L'Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science in 2002 and several other awards (see table above).[14]

See also


  1. ^ "Obituary: Indira Nath 1938-2021". 15 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Indian Fellow - Indira Nath". Indian National Science Academy. Archived from the original on 16 December 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  3. ^ "Simply a class apart". The Hindu. 17 March 2002. Archived from the original on 15 October 2005. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  4. ^ "FAT". Archived from the original on 9 December 2013. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Birmingham, Karen (1 June 2002). "Indira Nath". Nature Medicine. 8 (6): 545. doi:10.1038/nm0602-545. ISSN 1546-170X. PMID 12042793. S2CID 30023193.
  6. ^ "In Conversation - Interview with Dr. Indira Nath". Science Reporter. 53 (6). June 2016. ISSN 0036-8512.
  7. ^ Rajya Sabha TV (14 February 2014), Eureka with Indira Nath, retrieved 16 February 2019
  8. ^ Rao, P. Narasimha; Suneetha, Sujai (2018). "Current Situation of Leprosy in India and its Future Implications". Indian Dermatology Online Journal. 9 (2): 83–89. doi:10.4103/idoj.IDOJ_282_17. ISSN 2229-5178. PMC 5885632. PMID 29644191.
  9. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  10. ^ "Fellow Profile". Indian Academy of Sciences.
  11. ^ The Year Book 2014 // Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi
  12. ^ "List of Fellows - NAMS" (PDF). National Academy of Medical Sciences. 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  13. ^ "Padma Awards Directory (1954–2009)" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 May 2013.
  14. ^ Philanthropy: Award & Fellowships, 2002 Archived 2013-03-02 at the Wayback Machine L'Oréal.