Revolutionary Physiologist: Dr. Autar Singh Paintal

Late Dr. Autar Singh Paintal was a human physiologist. Human physiologists study the functioning of the human body and its parts. Human physiologists help in understanding the normal processes of the human body. Their work forms the foundation of medical sciences. 

Dr. Autar Singh Paintal is best known for his breakthrough studies and discoveries that added a new dimension, to the methods adopted by medical science for studying lung diseases, heart diseases, and neurological diseases.

Founder of J receptors
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He was among the toppers from his MBBS batch during his studies at the King George Medical College, Lucknow. Everybody expected him to opt for a clinical specialty, but he loved science and research much more than clinical medicine, and against popular advice, he ultimately decided to pursue his MD in Physiology. 

During his MD thesis, he created new electronic instruments by himself to study electrical resistance of the skin, and developed a scoring system to identify Psychotic patients using his techniques. This system later came to be known as Paintal-Index and was widely used by the Psychiatrists. 

He was awarded Rockefeller Fellowship to further study, and he joined a Ph.D. program in electrophysiology at Edinburgh. Once again he built his own electronic equipment to study and also devised a new dissection technique to study deep nerve fibers that supply lungs and heart. 

He ultimately succeeded at building a new method for identification of the terminal portion of a single nerve fiber called "receptor" and describing its features. This method of identifying and studying receptors helped him to find multiple breakthroughs in medical science and providing answers to many unanswered questions of human physiology. 

Using this method, he discovered the "J" receptors in the lungs, "Atrial-B" receptors and "Ventricular Pressure" receptors in the heart, "Gastric-stretch" receptors in the stomach, "Mucosal-Mechano" receptors in the intestines, and "Pressure-Pain" receptors in the muscles.

These discoveries and his various other studies about other nerve fibers and receptors earned him an unparalleled reputation as a scientist across the globe, and even beyond the confines of physiology and medical community. He was recognized as a distinguished scientist and was elected as the President of the Indian National Science Academy and Indian Science Congress Association. He also founded the Society of Scientific Values, a body aimed at promoting ethics and integrity in science, among the first of its kind in the world.

He held high administrative and leadership positions during his journey. Some of those were the Director of VP Chest Institute, New Delhi, The principal of University College of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, and Director-General of Indian Council of Medical Research, 

In coordination with Govt of India, he founded a department at VPCI to investigate breathlessness and respiratory problems in soldiers posted at high altitude. He holds the distinction of holding the Padma Vibhushan award, India's second-highest civilian award for rendering exceptional and distinguished service to the society. He remains the only non-clinical doctor among the 10 odd medical doctors who have received this honor. Besides Padma Vibhushan, he was bestowed with multiple international and national awards, fellowships, and honorary degrees.

"Perfection must be encouraged and rewarded" - A famous quote by Dr. A.S. Paintal.

Do you feel inspired by his journey? Feel free to share your views.

References and further reading:

1. Adventures in physiology: The times and life of Autar S Paintal (1925–2004)
2. Autar Singh Paintal: 24 September 1925 - 21 December 2004
3. A Tribute To Professor Autar Singh Paintal (1925-2004)
4. Autar Singh Paintal (1925–2004)
5. Founders of Indian Neurosciences: Professor Autar Singh Paintal and Professor Darab Kersasp Dastur


Views expressed are personal

Last Updated On 10/16/2019 06:30 PM

Author Profile: Dr. Naval Asija is a New Delhi based non-clinical doctor having health administration postgraduate training. Since 2018, he has been writing/blogging full time on health issues. In the past, he has worked for a decade in healthcare, in different organizations, namely Innodata India Pvt. Ltd., Win-Medicare Pvt. Ltd., National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Integrated Disease Surveillance Project and the National Polio Surveillance Project. The author can be contacted through
Journey of a non clinical doctor


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