November 2001

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A Profile by Dr P. Suri

Prof Ajit Ray's Mission:




 Prof Ajit Ray



Ajit Ray is a Professor Emeritus of the University of Toronto where he put in 27 years of teaching and research work on Human  Population Genetics. His special project in the University was “Mapping the Gene of Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate in India” for which the financial assistance was provided by the Canadian Medical Research Council. His retirement from the University in 1993, could in no way stop him from  his mission in life, and that was to continue working in the field of his specialisation. These days he is busy with the project “ Help a Child to Smile in India”. He is exerting himself to put a smile on the faces of the poorest of the poor children afflicted with the malformation . And he is doing it  by repairing the  disorders with the  help of a couple of plastic surgeons in India.


In response to my question,  to what extent the genes could be responsible for  this kind of malformation, Prof Ray promptly came out with precise facts and figures from various case studies. He had taken up the case studies of 300 families, and 30% of them, that is 90 cases had emerged as the familial cases. He had observed that 2 to 5 children in a family can be affected by the malformation.


I was so impressed by all this that I could not resist asking him how he had got interested in Human Genetics. He told me that  in the early years of his life he had attended a lecture by Nirmal Kumar Bose, who was an anthropologist and  also a private secretary of Mahatma Gandhi. 


Prof. Ray says that he was so deeply influenced by his discourse that he took seriously to the study of Anthropology and later developed a special interest in Human Genetics after he met Prof J.B.S. Haldane. . He took a Master’s degree in the subject, and proceeded to work on the population structure of  Orissa for the next 10 years.


During those 10 years, Prof Ray was profoundly impressed by the world famous British Scientist, J.B.S.Haldane, who had come to India in 1958; and worked with him for 5 years . Prof Ray left India for Holland in 1964. Prof Haldane became Indian citizen and died in India.


Ray reminisces the time when he went to meet Haldane. He had carried his research paper on Human Population Structure with him. He says, "Prof Haldane read my paper intently,  discussed it with me for about three hours; and then after a month or so sent me his own paper on the theory of population growth with the observation and appreciation of my paper covering  30 villages of aboriginal population."


Prof. Ray's paper “A Common Digital Anomaly in India” was published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences in America. In 1964.  Ray applied to the WHO for a fellowship in Human genetics; and worked in the University of Leiden from 1964 to 1970. He got his PhD in Human Genetics, and then moved on to the University of Toronto.


He retired in 1993 and ever since has been trying to help children come out of the genetic malformation of the cleft lip and cleft palate with the help of a couple of plastic surgeons in Calcutta The Team’s target was the treatment of at least 100 children in order to create awareness among the richer sections of the society to get motivated enough to help the poor and destitute children. So far he has been able to help 52 children. "The joy and hope in the eyes of these children and their families cannot be expressed in words," adds Prof Ray.


Prof Ray makes it a point, at every social gathering and community function, to appeal to the Indo-Canadians to help, and also to encourage their friends and associates to contribute to this noble cause. After all, he says, in Calcutta it costs only $400 to help a child to smile after the one and a half hour operation and about 10 days of hospitalisation.


Prof Ray plans to go to Calcutta in the earlier part of 2002.


(Prof Ajit Ray can be contacted at: 52 Berkinshaw Cr Toronto Ontario M3B 2T2  Tel: 416.449.2530)