International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    B R Chatterjee

    Status Medical Researcher
    Country India


    B R Chatterjee (1929-) is an Indian medical researcher.

    Chatterjee was born and educated in the district town of Bankura, in West Bengal. After initially pursuing interests in the natural sciences, he was enrolled at the Medical School in Bankura, following his father’s wishes, in an attempt to remedy his family’s precarious financial situation. During his medical studies, the entire family moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata), where his two elder brothers were in service, and he transferred to the Calcutta Medical School (now called the National Medical College). He passed his licenciate exams in 1949 and spent a year as a Resident House Physician in the Calcutta National Medical College.

    From 1950 to 1952 he studied for an MBBS at the R G Kar Medical College. After completing this he returned to the National Medical College, enrolling as an M.D. candidate under the Professor of Medicine to carry out research on changes in the hearts of children with diphtheria. However, two years later he abandoned this when his work was allegedly plagiarised by the Professor, and instead began to research immunology, basic microbiology and bacteriology at the Indian Institute of Medical Research (later called the Indian Institute for Chemical Biology). When the Institute was taken over by the Government of India, by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the working environment became less conducive, and he moved yet again, taking up a Fellowship in Microbiology at the Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston, Texas (1960 to Nov 1962).

    In 1962, Chatterjee accepted an invitation to study the biology of Mycobacterium leprae at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore. After studying there for three years, he wanted to return to India, and arranged to continue his research for Johns Hopkins while based in the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health in Calcutta. Here, he became involved in all areas of leprosy research, from epidemiology to treatment and control, but retained a primary interest in microbiology.

    In Chatterjee's account, although his research for Johns Hopkins fulfilled the requirements for the Doctor of Science, he never earned this degree because he declined to return to Baltimore to defend his thesis. He later attributed this to differences with the Johns Hopkins University authorities due to his being 'an intense Indian individual' (20).

    In 1975, Chatterjee joined the Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation (GMLF) as a member of the Governing Body. From then on, he became increasingly involved in aspects of leprosy, its clinical manifestations, its social dimensions, administrative intricacies and treatment problems. Through the GMLF, he organised the widespread administration of multi-drug combinations on a large scale in 1979-80. Later, a clash with the leaders of the GMLF over the organisation's principles and policies led him to resign his position of honorary Member-Director.

    Chatterjee has been on the Scientific Advisory Committee of CLTRI (Central Leprosy Teaching and Research Institute), Chingleput and of the Central JALMA Institute of Leprosy, Agra; he was a member of the Working Group on Leprosy (known as the Swaminathan Committee of the Health Ministry), a member of the Action Group on Leprosy, and an occasional member of the Expert Committee of ICMR. He earned the Padma Shri in 1985.


    Chatterjee, B.R. "An autobiographical sketch". In S S Naik (ed) The Indian Leprologists Look Back. Bombay: Acworth Leprosy Hospital Society for Research, Rehabilitation and Education in Leprosy, 1990: pp. 12-21.

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