From a neuroscience laboratory in Gurgaon, one scientist is busy conducting experiments on rodents to find cure for a viral disease that kills over 1,000 children every year in India. Most of the victims are those living in Western Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Assam.
Since 2004, Dr Anirban Basu is searching for a cure for Japanese encephalitis, a viral disease spread by mosquitoes that transfer the virus from infected pigs and wading birds to humans. Japanese encephalitis is the leading cause of viral encephalitis in Asia, with 30,000 to 50,000 cases reported annually.
Basu’s experiments for a cure have been successfully tested on rodents. “This research needs more time before it can be tested on humans,’’ said Basu, a scientist at the National Brain Research Centre. Talking to the Hindustan Times he said, “I want to see the results of my experiment improve treatment for Japanese encephalitis some day.”
The virus can infect both humans and animals including birds, bats, snakes, and frogs. After infection, the virus invades the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. The illness can lead to a serious infection of the brain and can be fatal in 30 per cent cases. Among the survivors, another 30 per cent suffer from serious brain damage, including paralysis.
These statistics prompted Basu to spend most of his time studying the mechanism of inflammation in the brain in experiments on rodents. “When a person is infected with this virus, neurons start dying very quickly,’’ he explained. “Inflammation and the resulting damage to neurons is very different from inflammation in the liver, as neurons do not regenerate and the damage is permanent.’’
“Microglia — cell that kills bacteria and virus during viral infections in the brain — plays a crucial role as it initiates the process of inflammation. My focus is to find a way to reduce the microglial activation so that the neurons are not damaged.’’
After postdoctoral studies at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, USA, Basu returned to India to work on diseases in developing nations.
Email Vidya Krishnan: firstname.lastname@example.org