The Untold Story Behind India’s First Test Tube Baby

Architect of India’s first (Asia’s first) and world’s second test tube baby

The Gist:

The Creator of the Indian’s first test-tube baby, Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay, who got his dues 27 years after his death.
Born in Hazaribag, Bihar, India : 1931, 16th January
Dr. Subhas Mukherjee committed suicide: 1981, 19th June

Dr. Subhas Mukherjee is the unsung hero, who discovered the easiest and most successful way of producing a test tube baby. In fact, he was the first Asian to discover such a process but never got his recognition during his lifetime. However, in 2002, after 21 years of his death, ICMR (India Council of Medical Research) recognized his work for the first time.

Some of his remarkable achievements are:

  • Used HMG for ovarian stimulation for IVF
  • First to use transvaginal approach for ovum pick up
  • First to cyropreserve human embryos
  • First to transfer embryo in a subsequent untreated cycle

Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay: Architect of India’s (Asia's first)  first and world’s second test tube babyDr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay created history when he became the first physician in India (and second in the world after British physicians Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards) to perform the In vitro fertilization resulting in a test tube baby “Durga” (Kanupriya Agarwal) on October 3, 1978.

Both Dr Mukhopadhyay and British scientists Robert G Edwards and Patrick Steptoe — creators of the world’s first test-tube baby — started work at the same time. The Indian baby was born on October 3, 1978, just 67 days after Marie Louise Brown was born.

Facing social bureaucratic negligence and insult instead of recognition from the West Bengal government and refusal of the Government of India to allow him to attend international conferences, he committed suicide in his Calcutta residence in 1981.

His feat has been given belated recognition as the Indian physician who in 1986 was “officially” regarded as being the first doctor to perform in-vitro fertilization in India.

In Getting Official Stamp : (from 1967 to 2008)

1967-1977 : Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay worked on methods of in-vitro Fertilisation (IVF) using innovative techniques.

1978, October : India’s first test tube baby Durga (Kanupriya Agarwal) was born.

1978, December : An enquiry by the West Bengal govt denounced his claim.

1980 : Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay was denied passport to go to Kyoto to present his paper on IVF. He was then transfered to eye hospital, where he suffered a heart attack.

1981 : Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay Committed suicide on June 19.

1981 : His described methods of cryopreservation used in US by Howard Jones.

1996 : T.C. Anand Kumar, leader of the group which produced the first document test tube baby in country in Mumbai 1986, gains access to the notes of Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay.

1997 : T.C. Anand Kumar, takes a year to study them and writes first paper on Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay achivements.

2002 : Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) apoints a 12 member commitee to draft a bill on Assisted Reproductive Technique.

2003 : Commitee accepts Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay’s claim and History is rewritten.

2004 : IVF specialist across the country challenge the document. A review follows among debates.

2005 : ICMR upholds the claim, honours India’s first test tube baby Durga (Kanupriya Agarwal) in first public meeting in Bangalore.

2007: Dr. Subhas Mukherjee’s life and work was published in the “Dictionary of Medical Biography” by Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, London England.

April 2008 : Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay’s achievement finds official stamp of approval.

In the ‘Dictionary of Medical Biography,’ published by World Foundation, enlists names of 1100 Medical Scientists from 100 countries around the world for their path breaking contributions to the medical science. Only three names found their place in that dictionary from the city of Kolkata. The names are: Sir Ronald Ross, U.N. Bramhachari and Dr. Mukhopadhyay. What is more ridiculous is that after his death, in 1983, one by one three scientists Howard Jones, Gleichar and Trounson (Australia) in three separate research claimed the invention of Human test tube baby. All these three research were already successfully accomplished by Mukhopadhyay long before their time. One of these scientists even found his research published in famous Journal “Nature”.
“Durga” (Kanupriya Agarwal): India's First Test Tube Baby

Getting official stamp for Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay’s made “Durga” (Kanupriya Agarwal) to reborn. She was brought to life by Dr Subhas Mukhopadhyay just 67 days after the world’s first test-tube baby, Marie Louise Brown, was born.

On her 25th birthday she first time exposed her identity in a ceremony organize in the memory of Dr. Mukhopahdhyay. She spoke about her creator in front of media and proved once again that her creator’s claim was not bogus.

“I certainly do not want to be a poster girl of the IVF industry, which undermined Dr Mukhopadhyay’s achievement for 30 years,” says Kanupriya, breaking her silence for the first time. “I am not a trophy but I am proud to be the living example of work of a genius.”

“I cannot explain how happy I am,” said Kanupriya Agarwal alias Durga, the girl who was brought into the world by the doctor. She says her greatest joy is that the achievement is finally being recorded in a reputed international publication. “All this while I was silent as I wanted permanent recognition for him, not just verbal assurances,” she said New Delhi. “Now, with the ICMR and this publication, I feel justice has been done to my scientific dad.”

Kanupriya says her parents suffered humiliation as she was growing up in Kolkata, her birthplace. But they never passed it on to her. “My parents did a wonderful job of keeping all the pressure away and helping me grow as a mature, reasonable individual,” she says. “It was not easy for them, they were made to feel like accomplices of Dr Mukhopadhyay in his misdeed. There were insinuations of the worst kind”

An MBA from Symbiosis, Pune and working for a private firm, Kanupriya lives in Gurgaon. She says the recognition for Dr Mukhopadhyay came as a relief to her parents. Looking at the brighter side, she says: “I feel truth has prevailed.”

Even though Dr Subhash Mukhopadhyay was belatedly honoured at a public meeting in Bangalore, it failed to bring any cheer to his wife. Namita Mukhopadhyay’s has been paralysed and battling with ignominy and neglect ever since her husband committed suicide on June 19, 1981. Namita is confined to her bed now.

“We decided not to start a family as he (Subhas) wanted to complete his research. He was a very emotional person and dedicated himself to his work. But he never got any support either from the government or from his peers,” says Namita.

More on him:

The Great scientist Subhash Mukhopadhyay was born in Calcutta in India. He was educated at the Scottish Church College and after that he joined at the Calcutta Medical College, which was then affiliated to the University of Calcutta. His life and death has been the subject of countless newspaper reviews and a Bollywood film directed Tapan Sinha entitled “Ek Doctor ki Maut” (Death of a Physician). Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay created history when he became the first physician in India and second in the world after British physician Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards to perform the procedure to produce the test tube baby “ Durga” (alias Kanupriya Agarwal ) on October 3, 1978.

Facing social ostracisation, bureaucratic negligence, reprimand, and insult instead of recognition from the Marxist West Bengal Government and refusal of the Government of India to allow him to attend International conferences, he committed suicide in his Calcutta residence in 1981. His feat has been given belated recognition as the Indian physician who in 1986 was “officially” regarded as being the first doctor to perform in-vitro fertilization in India. His reinstatement to glory is attributable to Professor T.C. Anand Kumar who is credited to be the mastermind behind India’s second (officially the first) test tube baby. Professor Kumar took the crown off his own head after reviewing personal notes of Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay. Professor Sunit Mukherji, who was a one time colleague of Dr. Mukhopadhyay, ably helped him. Professor Kumar is currently active in setting up a Research Institute in reproductive biology in memory of Dr. Mukhopadhyay.

Mukherjee along with Sunit Mukherji, a cryobiologist, and Gynecologist Dr. Saroj Kanti Bhattacharya, worked on a method of in-vitro fertilization that was used successfully on patient with damaged fallopian tubes. On 3rd October 1978, the team announced the birth of the world’s second test tube baby, in Calcutta. The announcement came 67 days after the birth of the first test-tube baby in England. Unlike his counterparts in England, Mukherjee had used gonadotropins for ovarian stimulation, transvaginal colpotomy to harvest oocytes and cryopreservation of the human embryo.

The Sad & Shameful Denouncement:

To verify his claims, the Government set up a committee that denounced his achievements. Mukherjee was denied leave to write up a detailed report of his results and later to attend a meeting in Japan to discuss his work. As a final act of humiliation, he was transferred to Institute of Ophthalmology as professor of electrophysiology. The insult may have been unbearable for Dr. Mukherjee as he committed suicide in 1981.

18th November 1978. An ‘expert committee’ was appointed by the Government of West Bengal under the medical association to decide over the fate of a convict named Dr. Subhas Mukhopahyay.

His charges are, one, he claims to be the architect of a human test tube baby named Durga.(3rd October, 1978).

Secondly, he denounced the report to the media before being cleared off by the Government bureaucrats.

Thirdly, he made this impossible possible with few general apparatus and a refrigerator in his small southern avenue flat while others cannot even think of it, although, having all the expensive resources in their hand.(in this research Dr. Mukhopadhyay was assisted by Prof. Sunit Mukherjee and Dr. S.K Bhattacharya.).

Fourth and most important allegation, he never let his head down by the Government Bureaucrats and his straightforwardness always attracted jealousy out of his peers.

The committee was presided over by a radiophysics and it was comprised of a gynecologist, a physiologist and a neurophysiologist. Interestingly, none of them were having any knowledge about modern reproductive technology. The question came from one of the expert “Where did you keep these embryos?” Dr. Mukhopahdhyay said “in sealed ampules.” Then he asked again “How did you seal an ampule?” Surprised Dr. Mukhopadhyay replied “as usual by heating”. From here started a questioning and counter-questioning session, which needs not to be mentioned, was utterly meaningless. “Oh! Embryos do not die of heat while sealing?” there were people who never saw embryos in the entire span of their lifetime!

So, when the justice was predetermined it is needs no mention that everything in that day was stuck in an uncontrolled debate woven carefully by a diplomatic net. The Committee put forward its final verdict, “Everything that Dr. Mukhopadhyay claims is bogus.”

The difference in the achievement of the World’s First & Second Test Tube Babies

Only before 67 days, means on 25th July 1978, 11.45 (PM) world’s first human test tube baby Louise Joy Brown was born at Oldham General Hospital in England. The Architects were Robert Edward and Patrick Steptoe. In their procedure they collected Ovum By using Lproscope. At first they observed the evolution and development of the Ovum for a long span of time and then collected it through a small incision. Ovum thus collected is then fertilized by sperm on a small disc. When it forms into an embryo scientists placed it into the womb. But Dr. Mukhopadhyay without using laparoscope collected ovum by undergoing a small operation in the vagina. He increased the number of ovum collected by using a hormone and developed embryo. Lastly, he placed it in the womb. Consequently, the probability of pregnancy increases to higher order.

Thanks to T.C. Anand & Sunit Mukherjee who provided the reprieve

There are brave scientists fighting the cause of Dr. Mukhopahdhyay and projecting his genius to the people. The worthy names to be mentioned in this regard are like Dr. Sunit Mukherjee (a one time colleague of Dr. Mukhopadhyay) and Dr. T. C. Anand Kumar.

Earlier officially, “Harsha”(16th August 1986) become the first human test tube baby of India. The invention went to Dr. T.C Anand Kumar, Director of ICMR(Indian Council of Medical Research). He very admirably acknowledged the rightful place of Dr. Subhas Mukherjee and officially made him the pioneer of the first test tube baby of India.

In 1997 Mukherjee’s papers and handwritten notes on his technique were assessed by T. C. Anand Kumar – former Director of the Institute of Research in Reproduction, Mumbai. Dr. Kumar, who had played a key role in the birth of another test-tube baby in 1986, not only freed Dr. Mukherjee from charges of fraud but also wrote extensively about his pioneering feat. Mukherjee’s method of combining in-vitro fertilization and cryopreservation of human embryos is the currently preferred technique of medically assisted reproduction. Today, more than 3 million test tube babies worldwide see the lights of day from Dr. Subhas Mukherjee’s discovered method.

In 1997 he came to Kolkata for participating in Science Congress. It was when all the research documents of Dr. Mukhopadhyay were handed over to him. After meticulously scruitinising and having discussion with Durga’s Parents he became certain that Dr. Mukhopadhyay was the architect of a human test tube baby. This eminent scientist once mentioned in a journal on ‘A critique of Mukerji’s technique’:

“The brief description given by Mukerji in his letter dated 19 October 1978 to the Director of Health Services, Government of West Bengal, the reports he gave over the television interviews and reported in the lay press describe how Mukerji carried out the procedure of in vitro fertilization.

The above was possible with the active involvement of the Professor Sunit Mukherji (a one time colleague of Dr. Mukhopadhyay and the only surviving member of the IVF team of 1978) who finally got recognition for the achievement in 1978.

2003 – Prof. Sunit Mukherjee, the only surviving member of the IVF team, was felicitated by the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers at a function in Kolkata and was conferred the Honorary Fellowship by Dr. P. G. Rao, President of I.I.Ch.E.

2003- 3rd October: Silver Jubilee of IVF in India organized by Hope Infertility Clinic, Inter Academy Biomedical Science Forum and Indian Council of Medical Research held at Bangalore. India’s First Test Tube Baby, “Durga” or Kanupriya and the only surviving member of the IVF team, Prof Sunit Mukherjee were felicitated.

About Prof. Sunit Mukherjee

Formerly professor and Head Food Technology and Biochemical Engineering dept.(J.U) and now Secretary of Dr.Subhas Mukherjee Memorial Reproductive Biology Research Center.

Bidyut Tantra, a student of science when he was documenting the works of Dr. Subhas life speaks of the following incident:

“Before reading this piece in public I altered its contents several times. May be, sometimes, I thought it was my over ambition to put a sea in a bowl. It is because I am still not in a position, in respect to wisdom as well as age, to understand and explain Dr. Mukhopadhyay’s work. At the beginning of my writing I couldn’t control myself being attacking to see such injustice with a man of Dr. Mukhopadhyay’s stature. But Prof. Sunit Mukherjee repetitively reminded me that I am a student of science. If I say something about Dr. Mukhopadhyay I should only emphasize on his work because, the identity of a truly devoted scientist is his work. May be, he never wanted to associate his pains with his inventions.

Dr. Subhas Mukherjee is still respected and remembered as someone who invented the most efficient process for the birth of test tube babies. In Sao Paulo, during the eve of 30 years completion of IVF, Brazilian Medical Society recognized and honored him for his incredible achievements.

In respect to the unselfish and admirable gesture of T.C. Anand, please read here.

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