Sir Ronald Ross Building

Sir Ronald Ross Institute of Parasitology is a malaria research institute located in Hyderabad, India. Established in 1955, the institute is a division of Osmania University.
Sir Ross was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1902 for his work on malaria by discovering the presence of plasmodium, the malarial parasite, in the female Anopheles mosquito.

Built in 1895, the charming structure was originally a military hospital. It served as a perfect place for Ross’s experiments with mosquitoes because of the thick marsh surrounding it, making specimens abundant and easy to collect.

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Col. H. E. Shortt, Director, Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, London had visited Department of Zoology in the year 1935 and enquired about the building wherein Ross made an epoch making discovery on Malaria.

During that period the following marble tablet was erected in the building.

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In the year 1955 Prof. Satyanarayan Singh, Head, Department of Zoology, Osmania University has made a successful attempt in acquiring the building from the then Deccan Airlines and established the Malaria Research Institute in this building. The Research Scholars of Osmania University and Osmania Medical College worked here.

For some unknown reasons, this building went again into the custody of Airport Authority of India. They had established a training centre here to train the pilots and an interesting fact was that, Shri Rajiv Gandhi Former Prime Minister of India was trained here in this building as a pilot.

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Once again the (Ross Memorial Society) Osmania University had taken over the possession of Ross Memorial Building from the Airport Authority of India in the year 1979.

Around 1980, there was acute shortage of funds and some kind of research, which was being conducted under the Supervision of Prof. Naryan Rao Department of Zoology, Osmania University, was about to come to a halt. In its 30th Meeting on 10th September 1990, the Executive Council of the Ross Memorial Society had decided to handover itself to Osmania University.

During the centenary celebrations in the year 1997, the entire building was refurbished to its original form with the help of British Council and established a modest Ross Memorial Museum with the portraits, illustrative biography of Sir Ronald Ross and his discovery of malaria transmission.

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Sir Ronald Ross was born in Almora, India in 1857 to Sir C.C.G. Ross, a General in the Indian Army, and his wife Matilda. At the age of eight, he was sent to England to be educated and spent much of his childhood with an aunt and uncle on the Isle of Wight. During his early years he developed interests in poetry, literature, music, and mathematics, all of which he continued to engage in for the rest of his life.

Although he had no predisposition to medicine, at the age of 17 he submitted to his father’s wish to see him enter the Indian Medical Service. He began his medical studies at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College, London in 1874 and sat the examinations for the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1879. He took the post of ship surgeon on a transatlantic steamship while studying for, and gaining the Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, which allowed him to enter the Indian Medical Service in 1881, where he held temporary appointments in Madras, Burma, and the Andaman Islands. During a year’s leave, from June 1888 to May 1889, he developed his scientific interests and studied for the Diploma in Public Health from the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in England and took a course in bacteriology under Professor E. E. Klein. He also married Miss Rosa Bloxam, who accompanied him to Bangalore when he returned for duty as a staff surgeon.

In 1892 he became interested in malaria and, having originally doubted the parasites’ existence, became an enthusiastic convert to the belief that malaria parasites were in the blood stream when this was demonstrated to him by Patrick Manson during a period of home leave in 1894. (Sir Patrick Manson is considered by many to be the father of tropical medicine. He was the first person to demonstrate, in 1878, that a parasite that causes human disease could infect a mosquito—in this case, the filarial worm that causes elephantiasis. He was also physician to the Seamen’s Hospital Society, the Medical Advisor to the Colonial Office, and later the founder of the London School of Tropical Medicine and the Hong Kong College of Medicine.)

On his return to India in 1895, Ross began his quest to prove the hypothesis of Alphonse Laveran and Manson that mosquitoes were connected with the propagation of malaria, and regularly corresponded with Manson on his findings. However his progress was hampered by the Indian Medical Service, which ordered him from Madras to a malaria-free environment in Rajputana. Ross threatened to resign but, following representations on his behalf by Manson, the Indian Government put him on special duty for a year to investigate malaria and kala azar (visceral leishmaniasis).

History of Malaria parasite discovery

On the 15th August, 1897, one of his assistants ( Dr. Ratnam Pillai) brought a bottle of larvae, many of which hatched out next day and among them he found several “dappled-winged mosquitoes”. Delighted with this capture, on August 16th, he fed them on his malaria patient, Husein Khan, with crescents in his blood. (Husein Khan was paid 1 anna per mosquito he was bitten by; he came away with 10 annas.) That evening he wrote to his wife: “I have found another kind of mosquito with which I am now experimenting, and hope for more satisfactory results with it.” On the 17th he dissected two of these mosquitoes but found nothing unusual. On the 19th he killed another and found “some peculiar vacuolated cells in the stomach about 10 microns in diameter.” On August 20th, a dull, hot day, Ross went to the hospital at 7 a.m., examined his patients, dealt with his correspondence and had a hurried breakfast in the mess. One of his mosquitoes had died and this he dissected without noting anything significant. He had two mosquitoes left of the batch fed on Husein Khan on the 16th and at about 1 p.m. he began to sacrifice one. Dissecting it he scrutinized the tissues micron by micron, when suddenly, in the stomach wall he “saw a clear and almost perfectly circular outline.. of about 12 microns in diameter. The outline was much too sharp, the cell too small to be an ordinary stomach-cell of a mosquito..” On looking a little further, there “was another and another exactly similar cell “. He changed the focus of his microscope and there within each of these new cells was a cluster of black pigment. He made rough drawings in his notebook, sealed his specimen, went home to tea and slept for an hour.

The pigment puzzled him, for the flagella contained no pigment, but the thought struck him that if the cells were really parasites they should grow in size in the last remaining mosquito during the night. He spent the night in agony lest his last remaining mosquito should die and decompose before morning. Next day he killed and dissected this remaining specimen. There were the cells again, twenty-one of them, just as before, only now much larger… The cells were therefore parasites, and, as they contained the characteristic malarial pigment, were almost certainly the malaria parasites growing in the mosquito’s tissues. He wrote to Manson with his exciting news: “Now prick up your ears because the hunt is up again.” Next morning Ross wrote a poem which he sent to Manson on Aug. 22:

This day relenting God

Hath placed within my hand
A wondrous thing; and God
Be praised. At his command,

Seeking his secret deeds
With tears and toiling breath,
I find thy cunning seeds,
O million-murdering Death.

I know this little thing
A myriad men will save,
O Death, where is thy sting?
Thy victory, O Grave?

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In his book, the Indian Journal of the History of Medicine in 1957, author D.V. Subba Reddy, points out that we have an unsung hero in Dr. Ratnam Pillai who assisted Sir Ronald Ross with the experiments that led to the big discovery and even played a huge part in bringing Ross’s attention to the dapple- winged anopheles mosquito. Dr. P. Ratnam Pillai was a Subedar Major in the Indian Army and was medical assistant to the Nobel Prize winner. His family still lives in Hyderabad.

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Successive attempts in the last one decade to revive the museum and in the process develop it into one-of-its-kind research center on malaria have failed. The facility has now once again gone back to where it was, a decade back. It lies secluded, decrepit, devoid of academic or research activity and without steady source of financial support

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