(Clockwise from left) Sakhi Sharma, Debanjan Bhattacharjee and Arun Trivedi are research scholars supported by the Lady Tata Memorial Trust, which has played a pioneering role in global medical philanthropy and particularly in the study of, and fight against, leukaemia

It may have seemed odd at the time, back in 1932, for an Indian benefactor to offer funding to medical scholars chosen from across the world to pursue research in diseases of the blood, especially leukaemia, which has been described by the writer Siddhartha Mukherjee as “an orphan disease [that] lived on the borderlands of illnesses, a pariah lurking between disciplines and departments…”

The benefactor was Dorab Tata, then at the helm of the business his father, Jamsetji Tata, had established. And he had an emotional reason for doing it: he had just lost his wife, Meherbai, to leukaemia. Meherbai was struck by the disease in 1930 when she was 50 and succumbed to it a year later. Dorab Tata was distraught but clear-headed enough to understand he could help in the underfunded fight against leukaemia.

The Lady Tata Memorial Trust, established by Dorab Tata in April 1932, played a pioneering role in global medical philanthropy. Well-structured and clear of purpose, it was the first Indian foundation to offer support to individual medical scholars globally. The Trust has been an important source of backing for many leading leukaemia researchers and it continues to be so.

The Trust provides fellowships and grants to researchers from around the world, selected by an advisory committee based in London. “The money that we offer may not seem to be a very large sum considering how much is needed when it comes to research in any field of medicine, especially cancer … but it does help students in a big way in the early stages of their research,” says Prof Daniel Catovsky, chairman of the Trust.