Punjab has the highest rate of cancer in India and this joint initiative by the Ropar-based Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) with IIT Mandi and Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, for treatment of cancer and other ailments could not have come at a better time. Though young, having been set up in 2008 (Ropar) and 2009 (Mandi), both IITs have strong faculty expertise in engineering coupled with very sound research programmes in biomedical life sciences. With support from PGIMER in the form of complementary clinical expertise, the initiative, named Bio-X consortium, is poised to tackle complex challenges in medicine.
A brainchild of Prof SK Das and Prof TA Gonsalves, directors of IITs Ropar and Mandi, respectively, the consortium has already identified projects and got seed funding for them. “We and IIT Mandi have contributed around Rs 1 crore for the initiative and selected around seven to eight projects,” Prof Das told HT Education recently.
Discussions held by Das and Gonzalves about the development of affordable health-care solutions, particularly for problems relevant to India, led to the first networking meeting in February at IIT Mandi. More than 15 faculty members from IIT Mandi and 10 from IIT Ropar attended. The need was felt for a strong networking with clinicians to foster the research and technology development to meet the consortium’s goals. “The two directors offered to support the collaborative projects established under this consortium with seed funding of up to 10% of the total cost of the project, which would be submitted for further extramural funding. The faculties were advised to establish collaborative projects involving the three institutions (including PGIMER) and apply for the funding,” says Dr Tulika Srivastava of IIT Mandi.
After another meeting in March this year, six project proposals were presented for evaluation for the seed grant and three awarded with funding of up to Rs 20 lakh. Following this, Das and Gonsalves met with the director of PGIMER to further strengthen the participation of the three institutions in the consortium.
The three to four major areas for research are related to biomedical instrumentation (diagnostic, control and monitoring equipment used for medical purposes), imaging (visual representation of organs and interiors of the body) and diagnostics, biomechanics (study of mechanical laws related to the movement or structure of organisms), low-cost MRI, biomedical nanotechnology, cancer therapy and laser therapy. Faculty from the three institutes will be involved in all projects and the same will be taken forward by postgraduate students and research scholars.
Dr Deepti R Bathula from IIT Ropar, a coordinator associated with the project, says it’s for the first time that the two IITs have joined hands to work towards a common goal of disease prevention and affordable health care in India.
There is a clear division of work among IIT Mandi, IIT Ropar and PGIMER Chandigarh and the roles and responsibilities have already been divided. The consortium is in constant touch through regular meetings - face to face or through video conferencing.
So far, seed grants of Rs 48 lakh have been given for development of a low cost low magnetic field MRI; determination of mechanical and biological osteoporotic bone for Indian patients and surface modified upconversion nanoparticles (involving use of fluorescent chemical compound that can re-emit light on light excitation) for diagnostic and therapeutic applications in cancer.
All three projects are progressing smoothly with preliminary work and experiments underway and the teams are planning to apply for extramural funding within one year, says Bathula.
Dr Chirag Kamal Ahuja, assistant professor of radio diagnosis and imaging (neuroimaging and interventional radiology) working with PGIMER, says the hospital had been having some problems in medical image analysis (MRI and CT scans) which required sophisticated analytical tools to better classify diseases and increase accuracy in diagnosis. The faculty from IIT seemed to have certain methods by which they could devise techniques and protocols for improving the image analysis.
Similar tools that are currently available with the industry vendors are expensive and cannot be easily acquired. In-house development of such techniques can help the doctors at large in India to improve the overall diagnostic accuracy. “Instead of teaming with our colleagues abroad (who have the ways and means to device technological tools for development), we can now use the brilliance of our information technology friends from the IITs to aid us in many fields including cancer research, stroke, atherosclerotic disease and neurodegenerative disorders which are prevalent in our population,” Ahuja adds.