Shinjini Bhatnagar was awarded her MBBS degree in 1983 from Lady Hardinge Medical College at Delhi University. She did her post graduate training in pediatrics (DNB, 1990) at All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and completed her PhD in the same department in 1993. She worked as a pediatric gastroenterologist and a physician scientist at the Centre for Diarrheal Diseases and Nutrition Research in the Department of Pediatrics, AIIMS till 2010. She moved to Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), an autonomous institute of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Govt. of India, as Professor in 2010. She was selected as Dean (Scientist HAG+) Clinical Research in 2014 and currently continues to be in this position at THSTI.
Academic and Research Achievements: In the earlier years direction of her research, strengthened by her training in pediatrics, was to conduct hypothesis driven studies that attempted to understand complex cause effect relationships in childhood diseases. Her focus was on childhood diarrhea. These studies facilitated development of knowledge-based interventions and public health tools for national and global policy. Her studies provided clear evidence that small bowel bacterial over growth was not a major determinant for persistent diarrhea and that antimicrobials had no role in its treatment. This evidence resulted in preventing irrational use of antimicrobials in clinical practice for treatment of persistent diarrhea and provided a justification for step-wise reduction in carbohydrate content and type as basis of treatment to achieve an optimal balance of digestibility and osmolarity in the diets. This stepwise dietary algorithm was introduced in all developing countries and as part of the national and global guidelines.
Her group adopted different strategies to improve the efficacy of the standard WHO ORS. They demonstrated that low osmolarity ORS was more efficacious than standard WHO ORS; It was implemented by WHO and National Government as the universal solution for all ages and types of diarrhea. Her research group further provided evidence that oral zinc given during an episode of diarrhea reduces morbidity and this resulted in introduction of zinc in treatment of diarrhea in clinical practice and policy. She extended the evaluation of zinc in treatment of sepsis and showed, for the first time, that adjunct zinc therapy is effective in reducing morbidity in young infant sepsis. They are further validating this finding by evaluating therapeutic benefits of zinc in reducing mortality in young infant sepsis in a large multi-institutional study across India and Nepal; studies are ongoing within this large randomized placebo controlled study to understand possible mechanistic effects of zinc on host immune responses in infections.
In more recent years she has changed her focus of research to establish unique large multidisciplinary research programs that bridge classical epidemiology with modern science to find solutions for diseases that have major public health significance in the country. The current focus is preterm birth and fetal growth restriction. The priority is to identify environmental, clinical and biological etiological factors, gain mechanistic insight into disease progression and use modern biological methods to identify measurement tools that could help in early risk stratification of pregnant women for preterm birth (and fetal growth restriction) in a large hospital-based cohort of pregnant women at a district hospital in Haryana. Such assessment tools based on a multi-disciplinary approach comprising methodologies of clinical, epidemiological, statistical, genetic, proteomic and imaging sciences will help in early identification of those “at risk” enabling early implementation of health and medical management tools to avoid mortality and adverse prognosis in later life. Her group has established a large bio bank of longitudinally collected varied bio specimens of these pregnant women with well characterized information on environmental, clinical, social and epidemiological determinants at different time points in pregnancy. This data will serve as an important national resource for answering additional research questions as new hypotheses emerge around birth, maternal health during pregnancy and questions around fetal origin of adult disease.
Another research focus has been to develop diagnostics and low cost health products for childhood diseases. As an initial step in that direction she has coordinated the development a rapid in-house point of care test for diagnosis of celiac disease that is now in the market.
She is a physician scientist who has strived to use good science to serve her patients and find Indian solutions for Indian problems.
Other contributions: Her original scientific contributions over three decades have resulted in both, publications of high impact factor journals and have contributed to evidence-based recommendations for important public health problems such as childhood diarrhea, young infant sepsis and severe acute malnutrition.
She currently coordinates the Pediatric Biology Centre at THSTI which endeavors to develop deep knowledge-driven interventions and technologies that can be sustainably implemented. In order to fulfill the mission of conducting large translational programs she has established stable clinical partnership programs for linking basic science and clinical departments across district and tertiary hospitals and research institutes. Dr. Bhatnagar drives the medtech innovation program as the Coordinator of Centre for Biodesign and Diagnostics, mentoring innovators on the Biodesign process of clinical immersion and health care product development. She has contributed to the development of the Clinical Development Service Agency at THSTI which supports and nurtures clinical research capacity in India.
Awards and Honours: She was elected Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in 2007, Fellow of the National Academy of Medical Sciences in 2016, and Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy in 2017.
She was awarded the Hotam Tomar Gold Medal in recognition of excellent scientific contribution and services in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition in 1985, Dr. ST Achar Gold Medal Award for research in Pediatrics for best research paper in 1989, World Congress of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition recognition for original scientific research in 2004 and Shri. Har Bhagwan Kumar Oration, Indian Academy of Pediatrics in 2012.