An unpopular path to become a scientist and medical doctor
Dr. Omar Bagasra took an unpopular path to become a scientist and medical doctor.
At the time Dr. Bagasra was born in India, it was the tradition for boys to go to school until the third or fourth grade to learn to read and write, and from there were expected to work with their father. The culture and his family would be odds he would need to overcome to reach his goal to be a scientist.
Dr. Bagasra at the age of five was inspired to do science when his sister became sick with polio. When the doctor came to his home to treat his sister, he informed his family that a guy in the United States was working on a vaccine for polio. This moment sparked Dr. Bagasra interest in the sciences and would set him on a path to becoming a scientist and medical doctor. He read every book he could get his hands on once he was able to read and write. His goal was to find a cure for his sister’s polio.
Despite his dream of becoming a scientist, Dr. Bagasra would encounter opposition from his family. His father would force him to go on business trips against his will. Led by his paternal grandmother, his family was against him going to college. Dr. Bagasra ran away from home because his family was unsupportive of dreams.
Dr. Bagasra said, “So I decided to run away from home. For two years I traveled around Pakistan on foot, and try to find what life is about and what we are here for.”
After two years of living in poverty and trying different aspects of ascetic life, Dr. Bagasra knew scientific education was his only choice for him. So he returned home and told his family he is going to college and did not want to be bothered by anyone.
Dr. Bagasra received his bachelor’s and master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Karachi in Pakistan. He moved to the United States and attended the University of Louisville where he received a Doctorate of Philosophy in microbiology and immunology. At the University of Louisville is where Dr. Bagasra would meet his mentor Dr. John Wallace, who ironically contributed to the finding of the polio vaccine along with Albert Sabin. Dr. Bagasra did his post-doctorate fellowship at Union University in Albany, New York.
After years of working at different schools and laboratories, Dr. Bagasra felt he did not know enough about medicine to reach his goal of creating vaccines. Therefore, he decided to go to medical school at The Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. He did not have any sponsorship or loans as he spent $6,000 on his education out of his pocket.
Dr. Bagasra always had an interest in finding a vaccine for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). When he returned from medical school, he created situ polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that is used across the world.
Justia Patents states, “Situ polymerase chain reaction provides methods and reagents for identifying cells containing at least one selected nucleic acid sequence which may be derived from the human immunodeficiency virus.”
Eventually, Dr. Bagasra would move to Orangeburg, South Carolina to work at Claflin University to fulfill his mentor’s dying wishes, to give back at a minority school and to conduct research on prostate cancer. While speaking about HIV at the rotary club, he was approached by the chief of police of Orangeburg Public Safety about starting a forensics laboratory. Dr. Bagasra help created the forensic laboratory at Claflin University that does fingerprint, DNA, and drug analyzes.
The Claflin University Forensic Lab serves many purposes. Orangeburg Public Safety, Sheriff Office and other law enforcement agencies utilize the forensic laboratory that is one of three laboratories in the state of South Carolina. The laboratory is used to train students to become forensic scientists. Currently, Dr. Bagasra is working with Georgia Tech where a device is 100 percent accurate for drug testing.
Dr. Bagasra has several recognitions, patents and awards for his research and contributions, but he doesn’t see that as his biggest accomplishment in his career. He wants to be known for his contribution to young people lives. Dr. Bagasra believes helping minority students is important because they are at a disadvantage in the education system.
Dr. Bagasra said, “I want to be known as a person who spent his life helping and training minority students, and to ensure they’re trained right. Young people are the future of this country.”