In Memoriam: Anil K. Ghosh

Posted 1 June 2020

The Society mourns the lost of member and malaria researcher Anil K. Ghosh, PhD, whose career included work at NIH, Case Western Reserve University, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and at MalarVx.

The following is a memoriam authored by friend and colleague Rajeev K. Mehlotra, PhD, of the Center for Global Health and Diseases, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland OH.

In Memoriam
Anil K. Ghosh (December 1957-April 2020)

With Anil Ghosh, a soul of Malaria research has departed. Human beings breathe air to live; Anil’s air was Science, his life was Research. He had an unwavering commitment to original research, and an unflagging energy for the pursuit of scientific explanation. 

Anil received his M.Phil. (1986) and Ph.D. (1991) degrees from the University of Calcutta, India. As a doctoral student, he made a comprehensive investigation on the biology and immunology of the dreadful human parasite Leishmania donovani, the causative agent of visceral leishmaniasis or kala-azar. According to Dr. Amal Bhattacharya, Anil’s Ph.D. supervisor, “His work was complete and thorough. It was undoubtedly a landmark to consider for the first time a state of the art report of the then prevalent kala-azar disease in Indian situation.”
After Ph.D., Anil joined a Research Associate position at Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Calcutta, with Dr. Samit Adhya, where he was actively involved in a project aimed at establishing PCR as a diagnostic tool for kala-azar. He isolated several new strains of L. donovani directly from patient biopsies, which proved very valuable for subsequent studies. Dr. Adhya says, “Showing unbound enthusiasm for field work, he was instrumental in establishing a liaison with clinicians, and made frequent trips to endemic areas to collect samples. His entomological skills were particularly useful for collecting and categorizing vector sandflies from remote villages in Bihar and West Bengal. His work resulted in several significant observations, including demonstration of the feasibility of early diagnosis of kala-azar using PCR, and the implication of hitherto unsuspected species of sandfly in disease transmission.” 

Anil joined NIH as a Postdoctoral Fellow, first at National Cancer Institute (1992-1995) and then at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (1995-1997), the latter with Dr. David Sacks, a renowned Leishmania expert. Dr. Sacks says, “…despite the short time he was with us, I came to know him as a wonderfully sincere and kind individual. I know that Govind Modi who maintained our sandflies at the time thought very highly of him.” It was clear early on that Anil needed to be in a lab with more expertise in molecular entomological approaches, and at the time Dr. Sacks’ lab was still primarily doing immunology. So when the opportunity arose to go to Dr. Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena’s lab at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), Dr. Sacks urged Anil to take it. Thus began a scientific association (a personal and professional bond) between Anil and Marcelo that lasted for almost 15 years!

With Dr. Jacobs-Lorena, first at CWRU and then at Johns Hopkins University, Anil learned and applied cutting-edge molecular biology techniques to make some seminal discoveries in the area of malaria vector biology. His key contributions to the research in Dr. Jacobs-Lorena’s lab were (a) unraveling the receptors and ligands for malaria parasite invasion in mosquito and (b) generating a genetic engineered mosquito that cannot transmit the malaria parasite. Collectively, these contributions resulted in 26 high-impact publications (such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Nature, Science, Journal of Biological Chemistry, PLoS Pathogen) and a book chapter in Methods in Molecular Biology. According to Dr. Jacobs-Lorena, “When Anil joined my lab, he was initially a postdoctoral trainee. However, I realized very quickly that Anil was an accomplished scientist and for most of the decade and a half that he was part of our group, Anil was in fact my colleague, from whom I learned much science and views of life. His premature departure left an empty space in my heart”. 

At that time, Anil’s colleagues were Prakash Srinivasan (currently a faculty at Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute), Abraham Eappen (currently at Sanaria Inc.), and Abhai Tripathi (currently a Senior Research Associate at Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute). Dr. Tripathi remembers, “Anil, as everyone knows, was a person of few words, but he had a pure heart and always wore warm and welcoming smile. In Anil, I have lost a brilliant colleague, a wonderful friend, and a caring brother. May he live in our hearts forever and his soul rests in peace.”

In 2013, Anil moved back to CWRU to work jointly with Drs. James Kazura, Arlene Dent, and Christopher King. With these three eminent malaria scientists, he made notable contributions to several projects that were host-focused instead of vector-focused: Evaluation of longevity and recall response of malaria antigen-specific memory B cell in Kenya and Papua New Guinea; identification of new malaria vaccine candidates with high-throughput molecular screening; expression of Plasmodium vivax chimeric vaccine (as virus particles) for highly effective and long-term memory response; CRISPR-Cas9-mediated genome editing in different mammalian cell lines and malaria parasites; and enrichment of reticulocytes and hematopoietic stem cells from human cord blood. Although these host-focused projects were new to Anil, he used, and greatly enhanced, his protein biochemistry and molecular biology skills to go to the next chapter in his research life in Seattle. 

Dr. Kazura remembers, “Anil’s nature was gentle and sharing, particularly as it pertained to students. His quiet and studious manner understated the positive impact he had on the spirit and intellectual acumen of those who were privileged to know him. I was sorry when Anil left Cleveland and CWRU for “greener” pastures in Seattle, but knew that this move allowed him to pursue his career-spanning interest in the biology of malaria transmission. His physical presence will be missed by many who, nevertheless, still feel his gentle spirit among us.” 

Gloria Tavera, a Medical Scientist Training Program student, echoed Dr. Kazura’s comment about Anil’s interaction with students. Gloria recalls, “As a graduate student, I had the privilege of learning from and working with Anil at CWRU. New to a project and needing assistance, I was grateful that Anil was kind and generous with his science. Often we worked in silence, but in between setting up western blots, he would sometimes scroll through Indian news sites and tell me about his home, brother and brother’s family. Anil was a mentor and example to me at an important time. It was a simple joy to read and discuss a protocol with him, to execute it, to see it work and to see his face light up with excitement. It was also valuable to experience patience and persistence alongside him when protocols didn’t go according to plan. After moving on, it was good to hear his voice on the phone, as we continued to discuss our project and life updates. The fact that we were able to keep in touch reminds me that science is a human endeavor and is often only as strong as our relationships. Anil’s memory will always be a blessing to me. His love for science, teaching and mentoring are values that I will carry with me forever.”

According to a colleague Dr. Indu Malhotra, who was working with Dr. King, “Anil contributed to our collaborative research projects with hard work and excitement. He was always enthusiastic in presenting and discussing new literature in lab meetings. He spent several hours on weekdays and weekends in the lab; science was his life. I wondered if he had time to cook; therefore, occasionally I used to bring Indian food for him. I will always miss him.” 

In 2016, Anil accepted a position in Dr. Stefan Kappe’s lab at Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and at MalarVx, a malaria vaccine company headed by Dr. James Davie. Both the Kappe lab and MalarVx are focused on developing attenuated parasites as vaccine candidates to prevent P. falciparum infection. In about 2 years, Anil became a full-time employee at MalarVx to concentrate on culturing the mosquito stages of P. falciparum and solve the challenges of producing the hundreds of millions of doses necessary for the commercial development of a vaccine to prevent malaria. According to Dr. Davie, “Anil was personally responsible for much of our technical progress in this regard. He was a gifted researcher. He liked to work alone, but he also enjoyed teaching others. He was always quick to help. More than anything else, he loved the science – reading the literature, the benchwork, the excitement of positive results, the scientific discussions. As one of you put it, ‘A person with a golden heart’. Like everyone else, I will always miss him.”

Anil’s excellence was not limited to research; he was an excellent cook and a great painter. He took his scientific curiosity from research and applied it into cooking and painting. He mastered baking many Indian, Mexican, and Chinese dishes! To sharpen his artistic skills, he earned a Diploma in Fine Art in Graphic Design from The Cleveland Institute of Art in 2003. He even applied his design skills in his scientific presentations. At the annual ASTMH meetings, where he was a regular presenter, he impressed the audience with his artful and well-designed presentations.

Anil was highly spiritual; he was a devout follower of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and Maa Sarada Devi, and Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa’s disciple Swami Vivekananda. According to Subir Ghosh, Anil’s youngest brother, “I grew up hearing a shloka of Bhagavad Gita (2-22) from my brother, which he used to chant and believe in.” In an effort to honor that fond memory, the shloka was chanted as part of Anil’s last rites. The translation of this shloka is - As a man casts off worn-out garments and puts on others that are new, so does the soul cast off its worn-out bodies and enter into others that are new

The facts are that Anil put his heart and soul into his work; he was an obsessive learner and relentless executioner; he was a devotee of Science, verily. To me, personally, he was my 3 PM coffee and Snickerdoodle buddy, a dear family friend, and a noble soul from whom I had the privilege and honor to learn about the journey of Life. Of course, I will miss him.