The story of Dr. Gurwattan Singh Miranpuri
When science and religion are in harmony
|Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
This is his story…
“I was born on May 5, 1948 in Miranpur, my village, in India,” Dr. Miranpuri began. “My last name ‘Miranpuri’ means ‘a person who lives
in Miranpur.’ My name ‘Singh’ is the name for all Sikh men. ‘Singh’ means ‘lion,’ while ‘Kaur,’ the name given to women, means ‘princess.’
Then ‘Gurwattan,’ my first name, means ‘where the guru lives.’”
Dr. Miranpuri is one of 10 children born to a school teacher and a homemaker, Apar Kaur, in Miranpur, county of Hoshiarpur, Punjab
State. “My brother and I used to share a bike to go to school, which was eight kilometers away,” he recalled, adding that at the time, there
was no available public transportation in his village. “Of the 10 siblings — six sisters and four brothers — I was the only one who reached
the university level. Education was not that common among girls in the village in those times; when they reach 18 or 20, they get married.
My two older sisters didn’t have education.”
It was Dr. Miranpuri’s father, Amar Singh Miranpuri, who influenced him to become a scientist, frequently telling his son about how
photosynthesis works in plants. “‘Plants also live, like animals and human beings,’” his father told him. “‘You need to do more research, and
to be a doctor of that kind, would be admirable.’ That was his dream for me.”
His father’s dream started to become a reality when Dr. Miranpuri obtained his undergraduate degree in 1968 from the Punjab
Agricultural University (PAU) in Ludhiana. He earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture and animal husbandry. “It’s a top-ranking
university among agricultural universities in India,” he said proudly. “Punjab is (considered) mini-California because we grow everything
which is grown in California, and we are proud to say that we are the breadbasket for the country. The ‘Green Revolution’ came from
Punjab. Punjab Agricultural University is the creator of Green Revolution, the (movement for) self-sufficiency in food.”
Over the next seven years, he went on to complete his master’s and Ph.D degrees in entomology. Throughout his years at PAU, Dr.
Miranpuri received scholarships and merit fellowships that helped him complete his academic requirements leading up to his doctorate.
He fulfilled his father’s dream in 1975. His first job was as entomologist-OIC of the ICAR research project in Assam Agricultural University.
Soon after, he was selected in a national competition by the Agricultural Research Services in India as the youngest scientist with this rank
to work on tick-borne anasplasmosis bovine disease at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute where he worked until 1982.
The years that followed took the young scientist from Punjab to other countries for fellowships and further studies that enhanced Dr.
Miranpuri’s training and skills far beyond the study of plants, photosynthesis, and animal diseases. From Scotland in 1982 to the United
States in 1983, to Canada and back to the U.S, the wealth of knowledge he acquired and new experiments he conducted, catapulted Dr.
Miranpuri into becoming one the most respected scientists in his field. So far, he has presented more than 52 papers at various
conferences and published 75 refered articles and other invited reports, reviews, book chapters and publications. In addition, he has
mentored many students, undergraduate and graduate alike, at the universities where his expertise was sought. In 1993, Dr. Gerald Byrne
invited him to join his lab in the UW-Madison Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. He accepted, partly because of his
sons’ educational plans. Since then, Dr. Miranpuri has stayed with UW-Madison and settled in the city.
“My sons wanted to have an education in the United States, and I thought it was the best time to bring them here,” Dr. Miranpuri
recalled. “Both of them became medical doctors.”
Dr. Miranpuri admitted that he was ambitious, in the sense that he wanted to be the best scientist he could be. “I try my level best, and
although there had been ups and downs, I had very good labs where I worked,” he said. “If you Google-search ‘Miranpuri,’ you’d find how
many papers I have published.” True enough, his name is among other scientists whose works have been widely published in scientific
journals, and read and cross-referenced by other scientists.
At present, Dr. Miranpuri is working with Dr. Daniel K. Resnick, a neurosurgeon at UW, trying to find the explanations for neuropathic
pain that occurs after a spinal cord injury. “ We’re looking at some gene expressions and how we can take care of the pain,” he explained.
“The stage of the research is that we have found some agonists, antagonists, and some gene receptors responsible for the pain during the
chronic phase of the injury. Through our rat models, we also study functional recovery and efficacy of certain drugs.”
Dr. Miranpuri was careful to explain that any kind of experiment they conduct has to first get approval from the National Institutes of
Health (NIH), including choices of drugs. “We cannot do any experiment without their permission,” he said. “We choose drugs on the basis
of the literature also. We study a lot first, and our study model is done under the guidelines or the protocol for animal care, animal health,
animal post-care, and animal pain. All these things are considered.”
Dr. Miranpuri’s research team is working towards applying for funding from NIH or the Christopher (and Dana) Reeve Foundation, the
organization founded by the late “Superman” Christopher Reeve, which is dedicated to finding a cure for spinal cord injury through
funding innovative research and improving the lives of people with paralysis.
While Dr. Miranpuri’s career, by all standards, is successful and self-fulfilling, he considers the achievements of his sons as his life’s real
success; much like what his father felt when he attained degrees in higher education (the only one out of the 10 children) and became a
scientist. “I’m a proud father of two sons who gave me a good name and fame,” Dr. Miranpuri said with a glisten in his eyes. “They’re both
medical doctors and are married to medical doctors as well!”
Dr. Miranpuri shares his blessings with others, especially his family back in India. “I brought two of my brothers, Rattan Singh and Harmit
Singh, here in Madison and I helped them start their own business.”
Aside from Dr. Miranpuri’s personal and professional accomplishments, he is very active in the Indian community (he is a former
president of the Association of Indians in America (AIA)-Madison Chapter and an awardee in philanthropy) and now, president of the Sikh
Society of Wisconsin. “I’m going down the hill in my life’s journey,” he said, “but I feel that I have achieved what I wanted to achieve.”
Indeed, this extremely hardworking, determined and highly intelligent man has come a very long way. And his Sikh values have had a lot
to do with it.
Next issue: Sikhism as a religion and a way of life.
|Dr. Gurwattan Singh Miranpuri with
wife Satya, a research specialist at
UW-Madison School of Medicine &
Dr. Gurwattan Singh Miranpuri smiles broadly as he opens the door to his home, wearing a formal
suit with matching turban and tie. He welcomes me with a warm “Hello, Heidi; come on in! Thank
you for coming!” He invites me to sit comfortably on a sofa in the receiving room of his beautiful
home on Madison’s west side. Prior to this visit, I met Dr. Miranpuri at the grand opening of the Sikh
temple in Middleton, the Sikh Gurdwara. It was also the celebration of Vaisakhi Day, a significant
occasion commemorating the founding of the Akal Khalsa (Community of the Pure) by Guru
Gobind Singh in the latter part of the 17th century. When I called Dr. Miranpuri for an interview, he
told me that I would have lunch with him and his wife in their home, so that I could taste an
authentic Punjabi home-cooked meal. (I sensed right away, I would be treated to the kind of
hospitality rarely found in this part of the world.)
Two huge portraits of Dr. Miranpuri’s sons with their beautiful brides, each taken on their
wedding day last year, grace the walls of this neat and spacious abode: one by the stairs, the other
in the receiving room — a significant way to show how much their children mean to the Miranpuri
couple. Both sons (Sarnarendra and Amrendra), as well as their brides (Gurkit and Aastha), are
medical doctors. Their mom, Satya, is in a similar line of work; she’s a research specialist at the UW-
Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. Their dad, Dr. Miranpuri, the interviewee today, is
a senior scientist at UW-Madison’s Department of Neurological Surgery, School of Medicine and
While the Miranpuri home isn’t unlike many American homes in this part of the city, the
occupants are significantly different (in a truly admirable way) in their way of life and spiritual
upbringing. Sikhism, the world’s fifth largest religion with over 20 million followers globally, is their
religion, and its message is devotion to God, truthful living, equality for all, and denunciation of
superstitions and blind rituals. Dr. Miranpuri is the president of the Sikh Society of Wisconsin-