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Dig Bijay Mahat

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In his research at MIT, Dig Bijay “Jay” Mahat aims to better understand the pieces of RNA that are made from stretches of DNA that don’t encode proteins. These genetic segments can act as regulators for genes that do contain protein-making instructions, so perhaps they influence the development of diseases.

But the Covid-19 pandemic diverted Mahat’s path, at least temporarily. Mahat grew up in Nepal, and he felt compelled to help his home country navigate the monumental public health crisis.

“I think ultimately that’s what I’ve trained for and what I would like to contribute,” Mahat said.

Mahat had built not only an expertise but also connections with top scientists, who in turn are well tied to biomedical companies. And he put that to use: he tapped his relationships at MIT to get test kits and reagents to Nepal, and he and his wife helped set up a testing program. He also was able to put local health officials in touch with vaccine manufacturers as he advocated for global vaccine equity.

Mahat, who had his first child earlier this year, is now back at MIT full time. But he’s still finding ways to channel his experience into helping at home. He’s advising on the country’s new cancer institute and the establishment of a molecular diagnostic laboratory. He envisions one day returning to Nepal.

It’s clear he’s already having a broader impact. He said he regularly hears from young Nepali students, wondering how they can pursue careers in science.

— Andrew Joseph