Professor Sanjeev Galande from Pune’s Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) received the GD Birla Award for Scientific Research-2014 for his work in the field of epigenetics, the study of gene expression.
The award was given away by Jyotiraditya Scindia, member of Parliament, at the 24th award ceremony at Birla House.
According to sources, the work done by Galande and his team at the Centre of Excellence in Epigenetics at IISER can completely change the way non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart ailments are treated. In epigenetics, the treatment of these conditions entails the mere ingestion of pills.
To explain his work, Galande used an analogy of ten different switches in a room that can be turned on or off to get varied lighting effects. “Every cell in the body has the same set of genes. However, depending on which genes express themselves, a muscle cell acts like a muscle cell and a nerve cell acts like a nerve cell. Now, if we know which switches are on in a normal cell, we will be able to recognise what the problem is in a diseased cell and turn on the right switches,” he said.
He said development of medicines based on epigenetic therapy has already progressed to the advanced clinical trial phase in the US, and they may enter the market in the next ten years.
Scindia, for his part, said low public spending was responsible for the “dismal” state of research in India. “At present, government spending on research is only about 0.9% of the GDP. However, in developing countries like India and China, it should be around 1.5% of the GDP. The density of researchers is also very less – there are just four per 100,000 people in India as compared to 80 in the United States,” he said.