Dr Jajini Varghese, a UK-based Indian-origin plastic surgeon, has been named an ''Outstanding Young Person of the World 2020'' by a non-profit NGO for her "incredible" scientific contributions to diagnosing and treating breast cancer.
The 39-year-old Consultant in Oncoplastic Breast Surgery at Royal Free Hospital and University College London is one of 10 nominations from the UK for the international award, which honours outstanding young people under the age of 40 every year from across 110 countries for extraordinary accomplishments in various fields.
Varghese has been recognised in the "Medical Innovation" category for making it her personal mission to attempt to restore the lives of millions of women affected by breast cancer and will be presented with the award at a ceremony at the 2020 Junior Chamber International (JCI) World Congress in Yokohama, Japan, in early November "Cancer will not defeat. We aim to restore people and lives. I can only search for the answers and heal the external scars but ultimately only God can heal the mutilations caused by breast cancer," said Varghese.
"I am only an ordinary individual with an extraordinary urge to succeed and to alleviate suffering. I count excellence as the eventual result of a continual striving to do better. I count myself fortunate to be healthy, to love what I do and to be able to help others," she said.
Based in London with her husband and two children, the young surgeon traces her roots to Muttom Haripad in Kerala where her parents George and Jolly Varghese live.
In the UK, she is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Plastic Surgery (FRCS) and a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS). She is also on the Board of Examiners for the MSc in Plastic Surgery at University College London (UCL).
After graduating with a first class in medicine from India, Varghese became one of the few doctors to be awarded the Cambridge Commonwealth Full Scholarship to the University of Cambridge to complete her MPhil and PhD on the "Genetics of Breast Cancer".
Thereafter, her research has been to identify susceptible women with high breast density and to find out their genes associated with breast cancer.
This led to the discovery of the ZNF 365 gene, associated with breast cancer, in collaboration with Harvard University and the Mayo Clinic, which was published in several academic journals including 'Nature Genetics'.
This genetic mutation, which confers a higher risk in the carriers, is now used in microarrays worldwide to identify women with a genetic predisposition for early detection, prevention and prophylactic treatment of breast cancer.
JCI, a global leadership organisation which provides personal and professional development opportunities to young leaders aged 18 to 40, praised Varghese for adopting strategies to prevent breast cancer by offering early screening for women in developing countries.
"With medical advances, many women live beyond the initial diagnosis of breast cancer. Her current work focuses on providing women as normal a body as possible following this procedure through extensive reconstructive oncoplastic surgery," JCI notes.
Varghese's work has won her other awards, including the top prize at the Association of Breast Surgery Conference and UK Radiology International Congress.
The medic refers to herself as "a timid woman of small stature" in quite a male-dominated arena of plastic surgery. She currently lectures on the UCL Athena Programme, encouraging women to take up a surgical career, and has mentored several doctors to hold leadership roles in their chosen fields.
"Availability of health care should be a universal and a basic right," she said.
To address the need for doctors in rural areas of India, Varghese was instrumental in setting up EMET Scholarships in India 17 years ago, offering help for Indian medical students who at the end of their education are asked to spend up to two years in an area of India lacking medical care.
During her free time, she is a trained Indian classical dancer and painter and has been recognised in those fields too.
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