Remembering Savant Thakur

Tributes flow for the inspirational School of Biomedical Sciences PhD candidate, who was driven to find a cure for his own condition – Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

“Strive towards your goals, just push on and never give up. Anyone who has a dream and wants to achieve something can and the disability should be no barrier.”

That was the life motto of Savant Thakur – a man with a single-minded determination to improve the lives of others with DMD.

Sadly, Savant fell short of time in his quest to find a cure, but he made incredible inroads with his award-winning studies into muscle wasting disorders at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Muscle Research in the Department of Physiology.

The 27-year-old succumbed to the disease in the early hours of Sunday 16 June 2019, after his health rapidly deteriorated during the week prior.

He leaves a legacy of research that will contribute, as he hoped, to quality of life for those with muscular dystrophy across the globe.

An outpouring of tributes from Savant’s peers, friends and mentors at the University and beyond are testament to the exceptional person, and biomedical scientist, that he was.

Gordon Lynch, Savant’s PhD mentor and Director of the Centre for Muscle Research said: “Savant was a very, very special person. He never complained about his condition. Not once. He just got on with the task and with a smile.”

Fabienne Mackay, Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences, added: “We are incredibly sad to lose this brilliant mind, Savant’s passing will have a tremendous impact on many people.

“We also remember with great fondness his inspirational presence in our laboratories, and the man who loved sports almost as much as science.”

Growing up with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Savant was diagnosed with DMD at age four. By 10 he’d lost the ability to walk and was confined to a wheelchair. Since then, the disease – which affects one in 3500 boys – progressively devastated his strength and he often needed a ventilator to help him breathe.

However, Savant was motivated by his condition. It was his curiosity about how the disease affected his body that piqued an interest in biomedical science.

“I wanted to learn more about the causes of my condition and I was really intrigued by what was going wrong in my body at a molecular level,” Savant told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2016.

“I got really inspired. That's why I decided biomedical research would be the best way to go.”

A brilliant academic record

Savant completed his VCE at Sunshine Secondary College with an ATAR score in the top five per cent of Victoria.

He pursued a Bachelor of Biomedicine at the University of Melbourne, and quickly established a reputation as a diligent student. A stellar academic transcript of first-class honours followed before beginning his PhD under Professor Lynch in 2015.

The following year, Savant was the recipient of the Inspire Award for his research investigating skeletal muscle injury and repair to determine its direct relevance to DMD.

He received the Lionel Murphy Endowment Postgraduate Scholarship for his research achievements on skeletal muscle biology with applications to improving muscle repair after injury and understanding and treating skeletal muscle diseases.

The June Opie Fellowship, awarded to students with severe disabilities, also helped Savant with financial assistance during his postgraduate study.

In April this year, Savant completed his experiments after four years of planning and conducting cell culture and animal experiments, and was well into his data analysis and thesis writing.

He thanked his support crew on Facebook at the time for helping him reach “an important day in his PhD life”.

Savant presented his research to the Australian Physiological Society conference many times, and published his first lead author research article in Cell Stress and Chaperones in  May 2019.

An advocate in every way

With an active social media following, Savant was always motivating people with DMD and other disabilities to: “Enjoy life and make the most of it no matter how tough it is”.

As an ambassador for DMD, he invited groups of men and boys with the disease to the University’s Department of Physiology laboratories where researchers would discuss their latest work on DMD.

Savant and Professor Lynch were later interviewed on the ABC about their research for World Duchenne Awareness Day.

The School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, and larger University of Melbourne community, extends warm regards to Savant’s family and friends at this sad time. We will always remember Savant for his affable personality, great sense of humour, intelligence, motivation and courage.

By Harriet Edmund

A memorial for Savant Singh Thakur will be held at University House at The Woodward, Level 10, Law Building, 185 Pelham Street. From 4.30pm - 7.30pm on Friday 28 June 2019.