Dr. Pinaki Panigrahi, Secretary of Asian Institute of Public Health (AIPH), an Odia paediatrician in the US has hogged headlines in America by discovering an inexpensive method of treatment to prevent sepsis, a deadly infection that kills around 60,000 kids around the world every year. Dr. Panigrahi is an alumnus of BJB College, Bhubaneswar and MKCG Medical College, Berhampur. He is currently a Professor at Department of Epidemiology and Paediatrics, College of Public Health, University of Nebraska Medical Centre, Omaha, Nebraska, United States.
Over the last 20 years, Dr. Panigrahi has been heading research on the subject to find out the probiotic bacteria, common in kimchi, pickles and other fermented vegetables, that could be a life saving solution to this medical problem in newborns.
Dr. Panigrahi’s team screened over 280 strains of probiotic bacteria before hitting upon a specific strain of Lactobacillus plantarum, abundantly found in curd, and fermented fruits and vegetables. - such as Indian pickles. These bacteria populate the healthy infant stool rather quickly and the strain used in the experiment was isolated from the diaper of an 11 month-old healthy baby.
The finding further stated that babies who ate the microbes for a week along with some sugars to feed the microbes had a dramatic reduction in risk of death and sepsis. They dropped by 40 percent, from 9 per cent to 5.4 per cent.
“This study is a testament to the world-class research done by my colleagues at the Asian Institute of Public Health in Bhubaneswar, as well as US collaborators at the Emerging Pathogens Institute in Florida and the Medical Centre at Michigan State University. What’s more, it demonstrates India’s ability to find its own solutions with overseas collaboration. India has the largest patient population, the best clinicians, statisticians, laboratories, and IT experts – all the ingredients needed to conduct successful clinical trials and translational research.” he said, Population-based surveillance of infection, finding the root cause, and other preparatory work completed over 5-6 years, and the actual trial done over another five years cost over $10 million, and was funded by the U.S National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Panigrahi says India must commit more government funding for such research and also give more attention to public health issues. “Every dollar spent in public health gets 17-18 dollars in return,” he said.
His work entitled “A Randomized Synbiotic Trial to Prevent Sepsis among Infants in Rural India” is published in Nature (2017), doi: 10.1038/nature23480 on 16 August 2017.