SUMMARY OF CONTRIBUTIONS OF DR. ARUNA VANIKAR TO THE SOCIETY IN
THE FIELD OF RESEARCH AND MEDICINE
Prof. Aruna Vanikar, one of the rare medical scientists in India was born in Ahmedabad, India. After her primary schooling in Ahmedabad, she graduated from MGIMS, Sewagram in Gandhian environment and further pursued her post-graduate studies in Pathology and Microbiology in NHL Municipal Medical College, Ahmedabad. After a short stint in the Pathology department of BJ Medical College as a tutor, she moved to IKDRC in the capacity of a tutor in 1992. She has worked with different world authorities right from her mentor and founder of IKDRC-ITS as well as the GUTS, Padmashree Awardee Prof. H.L. Trivedi, the pioneer Nephrologist, Immunologist and Transplant Researcher of India, to Nobel laureate Prof. Zinkeranagel in Zurich, Switzerland and many others in different countries, she has always cherished the dream of making India the destination of research and treatment in Medical field.
In addition to handling responsibilities of Vice Chancellor, Gujarat University of Transplantation Sciences (GUTS), she is also Prof. & Head of the Department of Pathology, Lab Medicine, Transfusion Services and Immunohematology, and Dept. of Stem Cell Therapy and Regenerative Medicine at the Institute of Kidney Diseases and Research Centre and Institute of Transplantation Sciences (IKDRC-ITS), Ahmedabad, India.
She is the first recognized teacher of Post-Doctorate Certificate Course (PDCC) in Renal Pathology by Indian Academy of Pathologists and has trained more than 25 Renal and Transplant Pathologists who are serving in different parts of the nation. She has the credit of being an internationally acclaimed Renal and Transplant Pathologist, Transplant Researcher in the field of “tolerance” and “stem cells” and is also the only Indian mentor for her students consistently getting Young investigators’ awards given away by the International Societies related with Transplantation for several years. She was conferred with Honoris Causa (Doctor of Letters) (D.Litt) by S.N.D.T. Womens’ University, Mumbai in 2017.
She is pioneer in stem cell research in India and her original work includes in vitro generation of adipose tissue derived mesenchymal stem cells, insulin secreting stem cells, neuronal stem cells, Cardiomyocytes, regulatory T/ B cells and their application in clinic. This research has helped in minimization of immunosuppression in renal transplantation. She has established the role of T regulatory cells as novel biomarker for allograft function status.
Transplantation is now a well-accepted therapeutic option for kidney failure, however these patients require life-long immunosuppression to protect the grafted organ from being rejected by the body’s immune system. Unfortunately immunosuppression itself exposes patients to lifethreatening infections, metabolic disorders and malignancy which eventually destroy the grafted organ and cause catastrophic out-of-pocket expenditure. The end result is a family sinking in to poverty with the loss of the life of a beloved family member who is usually the only bread earner of the family. The research of transplant tolerance (transplantation with minimum/ no immunosuppression) using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) is the most relevant for such patients. Stem cell (SC) infusion including MSCs results in to minimization/ withdrawal of immunosuppression. The total cost of transplantation and maintenance immunosuppression falls drastically when MSCs are used pre-transplantation. This is in addition to the benefit of minimal/no infections since the patients are on no major immunosuppression. In addition, they return to mainstream life instead of a dismal picture of restricted life to prevent exposure to infective onslaught.
Scientists all over the world are struggling to achieve the Utopian dream of transplant tolerance. In spite of the most potent immunosuppressants used and good tissue matching between donor and recipient, 5- and 10-year graft survival rates have been reported to be 77% and 56% in Europe versus 46-71% and 34-62% respectively in the US depending upon the ethnic race of the patient. As against this, the research by team of Dr. H.L.Trivedi and Dr. A.V. Vanikar have achieved 15 year graft survival of 65-72% on minimal immunosuppression. She patented methods of generating AD-MSC and insulin secreting cells and relinquished the rights to her institute in service of humanity. These cells have been used in more than 1500 kidney transplant patients who are living a normal life for several years and are on no /minimal immunosuppression.
Her second contribution to humanity is generation of insulin-making MSCs (IS-MSC-AD) from adipose tissue used to treat Diabetes. Diabetes is the major threat to health of world population and India is predicted to become the diabetic capital of the world with every 8th Indian likely to be a diabetic by the year 2030. This research will go a long way in treating all types of diabetics. These cells have been infused in about 60 diabetic patients so far, resulting in good control of their diabetes, further research to cure diabetes completely is ongoing.
Dr. Vanikar has also generated neuronal SCs and treated more than hundred traumatic paraplegia patients who have started walking after this treatment. She has also generated regulatory T and B cells in her lab which are used to sustain tolerance. Dr. Vanikar has published > 200 papers and few book chapters.