Friday, 21 September 2018

NBRC Scientists Unravel Mysteries of Human Brain In An Open Day To Lay Public

DBT-National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) organized an Open Day  to educate the general public about scientific research and its benefits.

In order to educate the general public about scientific research and its benefits, DBT-National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), Manesar - organized an Open Day on September 20, 2018, under India International Science Festival 2018 (IISF) banner. Students and teachers were invited from schools and colleges to visit laboratories of NBRC. 

Scientists of NBRC arranged poster sessions to showcase their ongoing neuroscience research activities. The posters were explained in easy language by young researchers. In addition to more than a dozen posters, a talk was delivered by a senior scientist Prof. Shiv K. Sharma on functioning of the healthy brain and how diseases affect the brain. 

He explained, how brain forms memories and helps in recalling them. Prof. Sharma also explained experiments that are commonly done to understand the mechanisms of learning and memory. 

“The enthusiasm of students in Science in general and in brain and Neuroscience in particular was evident from their keen interest in the lecture, and the questions that followed. Interaction with teachers, and answering their queries was a full-filing experience. The activities organized by NBRC were appreciated by the teachers and the students alike,” said Prof. Shiv Kumar Sharma. 

The visiting students were also provided a tour of research facilities at NBRC, where they got a chance to see how imaging of human brains is done by MRI and EEG. Live demonstrations of EEG recordings were done and students enthusiastically participated in the activity. 

“It was a wonderful experience to discuss our discoveries on brain infections with college and school students. We look forward for another opportunity to interact with young minds,” said Prof. Pankaj Seth. 

All students were given demonstration of real human brain and spinal cord for a better understanding of the nervous system which was liked by all the students. Students were also shown human brain stem cells under the microscope and were educated on this exciting and upcoming field of stem cells. They were shown videos taken using microscopes that clearly demonstrated how neural stem cells divide under culture conditions. 

The day long activity ended with interaction of students with researchers at NBRC. Students enjoyed their visit and wanted to know when will be next Open Day so that they can come back and learn more about human brain and how researchers unravel the mysteries of human brain. 

Prof. Neeraj Jain, Director, NBRC, informed that the next Open Day will be on December 17, 2018.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Experiments In Rats Show Some Bad Memories Can Be Forgotten

Indian scientists found that exaggerated response and difficulty to get rid of bad memories could depend on whether the bad memory was formed before or after a stressful event.

Prof. Sumantra Chattarji and Dr. M. M. Rahman (Left to Right)

It is believed that exaggerated response to bad memories is similar for all negative memories. Now, a team of Indian scientists have shown that exaggerated response and difficulty to get rid of bad memories could depend on whether the bad memory was formed before or after a stressful event.

The finding is based on experiments done in rats using a technique called fear conditioning. When a rat is presented with a sound tone along with an aversive cue, it forms a memory that the tone is bad. The rat freezes in fear whenever the tone is played. But when the tone is repeated without the aversive cue, the animal learns to forget aversive memory and realises that the tone is not bad.

When rats underwent stressful experience before fear conditioning, they showed increased fear response and inability to forget aversive memory. In contrast, when they underwent the stressful experience afterwards, they did not show any enhanced response fear or inability to extinguish the fear memory.

Researchers also recorded brain activity of the rats as they underwent fear conditioning and stressful experience. It was found that although amygdala (emotional hub of the brain) remained hyperactive in stressed animals, it did not affect expression of fear memory. The prefrontal cortex which remained relatively unaffected in stressed animals seemed to control the normal fear response.

Earlier studies had shown that amygdala and prefrontal cortex play important role in fear-related behaviour. While amygdala is involved in formation of fear memories, prefrontal cortex (involved in making executive decisions) helps in their regulation and finally extinction. Stress has been found to elicit opposite effects on the two brain structures.

“When fear-enhancing effects of prior exposure to stress are not in play, the expression of fear reflects normal regulation of prefrontal activity, not stress-induced hyperactivity in the amygdala,” explained Prof. Sumantra Chattarji, leader of the research team.

Stress-induced strengthening of fear memories and impaired fear extinction are generally believed to be behavioural manifestation of these contrasting effects on amygdala and prefrontal cortex. This has given rise to the view that stress impairs the ability to extinguish fear memories. “Our study questions this view”, researchers said. However, more studies in animals and humans will be required to further explore how this research can be used for treating stress disorders.

The study done by Bangalore-based National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inSTEM) has been published in journal eLife. The research team included Mohammed Mostafizur Rahman, Ashutosh Shukla and Sumantra Chattarji. This work was supported by Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India.

Journal Reference:

Friday, 14 September 2018

New Approach Can Help Make Better Titanium Alloy For Implants

A new approach for developing orthopedic implants with better ability to bond with the bone.

                                                                                           Kaushik Chatterjee and Sumit Bahl (Left to Right)

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore have proposed a new approach for developing orthopedic implants with better ability to bond with the bone.

Currently, orthopedic implants for knee and hip arthroplasty are made of metallic alloys that contain potentially toxic elements like aluminum, vanadium and nickel. They are also much stiffer than human bone and don’t bond well with the bone.

The research team at IISc has developed a strategy to increase the bioactivity of titanium alloy consisting of non-toxic elements - titanium, niobium and tin, through surface severe plastic deformation (metal working techniques). This approach could help produce new titanium alloys that are less stiff compared to currently used. The researchers have published a report on their work in the journal ‘ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.’

The researchers used a technique known as surface mechanical attrition treatment (SMAT) to boost bioactivity of alloy’s surface. In this technique, the metal alloy sheet is placed inside a chamber containing hard steel balls typically used in ball bearings. The chamber is vibrated using electromechanical means because of which the balls start to move randomly at high speed inside the chamber.

“The SMAT treatment deforms surface of the metal sheet, which leads to increase in surface hardness, modification in surface roughness and surface wettability and its chemistry. These modifications are responsible for increasing biological activity of the metal,” explained Dr Kaushik Chatterjee, who led the research, while speaking to India Science Wire.

SMAT can improve biomechanical properties like fatigue and wear resistance, added Dr Sumit Bahl, lead author of the study. The equipment used for the experiment was developed in collaboration with a Bengaluru company.

"The study has shown that traditional metal processing techniques can be still used to improve the cell-material interaction of new class of titanium alloys," commented Dr T.S. Sampath Kumar of Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, who was not connected with the study.

The research team included Sai Rama Krishna Meka, Sumit Bahl, Satyam Suwas, and Kaushik Chatterjee. The study was supported by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB).

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Scientists Find Protein Role In Muscle Disease

A new study has shown that genetic loss of SIL1 disrupts Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) homeostasis, leading to a condition of muscle disease.

Linda M. Hendershot and Viraj P. Ichhaporia (Left to Right)

Marinesco-Sjögren Syndrome (MSS) is a rare pediatric disease, where patients experience loss of balance and coordination, develop cataracts, and undergo severe and progressive loss of muscle strength. Scientists have previously shown a link between mutations in the SIL1 gene and MSS. However, it is not well understood how loss of SIL1, as in the case of MSS, causes the manifold signs of this disease.

A research team led by Dr. Linda M. Hendershot and Viraj P. Ichhaporia at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, USA, has recently shown that the genetic loss of SIL1 disrupts Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) homeostasis, leading to a condition of muscle disease. The results of this study were published in the journal ‘Disease Models & Mechanisms’.

The ER, a network of membranous tubules within the cytoplasm of a eukaryotic cell, folds and modifies newly formed proteins so they have particular 3-dimensional shape. SIL1 plays a key role in the process of protein folding where a newly synthesized string of amino acids gets transformed to its respective 3-dimensional shape to perform its functions.

“We use a preclinical model that is lacking SIL1 to help us better understand the underlying disease mechanisms of MSS. We focused on the progressive loss of muscle mass, which is a hallmark of MSS, and accompanying muscle weakness. We reasoned that understanding the molecular changes leading to muscle dysfunction would provide insights into many other pathological aspects of MSS,” said the lead author, Viraj P. Ichhaporia. 

“We observed that as the preclinical model began to age, they had difficulty holding on to the wired food tray while eating. This observation paved the way for the first experiment, which proved that the preclinical SIL1-deficient disease model displayed significant muscle weakness, and urged us to further investigate the underlying mechanisms” he added. 

Dr. Linda Hendershot, the corresponding author of this study, stated “we show that loss of SIL1 affects protein folding within the cell and dramatically disrupts protein homeostasis, which causes a cascading ripple effect.” 

“This research is particularly exciting to our lab because we are now able to understand the molecular events underlying muscle weakness in the preclinical model lacking SIL1, and believe that a similar ripple effect could also trigger the collapse of protein homeostasis in individuals with MSS. Identifying the molecular milestones of the progressive loss of muscle mass and strength that we can monitor, it allows us to ask how we can treat these defects?,” she concluded.

The research team included Viraj P. Ichhaporia, Jieun Kim, Kanisha Kavdia, Peter Vogel, Linda Horner, Sharon Frase and Linda M. Hendershot. The study was funded by the National Institue of Health and the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Journal Reference:

Sunday, 2 September 2018

IIT-K Bridging Gaps Between Engineering And Healthcare Problems

IIT-Kanpur have started immersion programmes where engineers and doctors are working together to find technological solution for problems in healthcare sector.

By IIT-Kanpur Desk

The journey of this programme began in the first week of May 2018. KGMU Lucknow hosted the first phase of the immersion programme where a group consisting of two PhD students and five undergraduate students stayed at KGMU for fifteen days. The main aim of the clinical immersion programme was to familiarize them with the problems in the current medical system and figure out engineering solutions for them.

“I found it to be enjoyable, both as an exercise in thinking about how to design medical equipment and actually observing what goes on inside the human body. It was fun to travel with friends, have a good time along the way and meet new people”, says Sambhav Mattoo, one of seven members from IIT Kanpur who visited King George’s Medical University (KGMU) Lucknow during the last summer for a collaborative programme between the two institutes.

From left: Vitthal Khatik, Anushya Goenka, Virender Singh, Tarun Mascarenhas, Sambhav Mattoo, Akshay Shendre and Adarsh Kumar outside the operation theatre

The mentor of this programme, Prof. Amitabha Bandyopadhyay, the Professor-in-Charge (PIC) of SIIC (SIDBI Incubation and Innovation Centre) at IIT Kanpur, informed us that a similar program called ‘Stanford India Biodesign Programme' inspired him to take such steps. One of India’s famous cardiologists and science administrator, Dr. Balram Bhargava of AIIMS New Delhi had led the programme with the purpose of channelizing India’s top technical brains to bring new technological innovations to medicine. 

Professor Bandyopadhyay said, “modern medicine extensively relies on sophisticated tools, the needs for which are known to the doctors but the technical know-how lies with the engineers. Therefore, such immersion programmes serve to bridge the gaps between engineers and doctors as well as medical needs and technological solution.”


Prof. Bandyopadhyay gave an insight into the SIIC and Bio-Incubator framework and various channels of funding that support innovation at IIT Kanpur. After being set up in 2000, the SIIC matured under Prof. B.V. Phani and reached new heights under Prof. Sameer Khandekar. 

In 2013, Prof. Bandyopadhyay was instrumental in setting up the Bio-Incubator, within the SIIC, to specifically promote biotechnology and pharmaceuticals-related innovations. With generous funding from Government of India through BIRAC ((Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council), Bio-Incubator now proudly hosts a well-equipped lab that Prof. Bandyopadhyay claims, is capable of providing 70% of the facilities available in the BSBE department of IITK. 

In 2017, IIT Kanpur was made one of the six prime centres for granting the Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG), a fund by the Govt. of India that can dispense funds up to Rs. 50 lacs to support innovation in biotechnology. Additional funding of two crore rupees was granted by BIRAC to IITK for creating an incubator for supporting innovations in medical technology and devices (MedTech Incubator). This funding pipeline is named the BioNest. 

Prof. Bandyopadhyay leveraged this fund and funds from Prof. Satyaki Roy, then the officiating PI (Principal Investigator) of the Design Innovation Centre of IITK and the support from the BSBE department to sponsor the IITK - KGMU collaborative programme.

Experience of the participants

Anushya Goenka, a senior undergraduate student participant, reminisces about her experiences and tells us the details of the programme: “KGMU provided us with extremely comfortable lodging at their New Guest House. On the first day, we had a long chat over lunch with Dr. Rishi Sethi, who coordinated the program at KGMU. The 15-day schedule of meetings with renowned doctors, visits to different departments and operation theatres, got us excited. 

One Sunday morning, we had a lovely chat over tea with Dr. Bobby Ramakant, Dr. Pooja Ramakant, and Dr. Tim France on a video call. We talked about the motivation behind the program. They talked about their newly developed SDGi search engine. Over the next few days, we visited the operation theatres of Endocrinology, Neurology, Cardiology, Urology and Plastic Surgery departments. 

At the Endocrinology operation theatres, Dr. Pooja Ramakant let us scrub in for the operations too. We feel lucky to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of witnessing surgeries. Yes, we have been the audience to the procedures of Angioplasty, Heart Bypass Surgery, Breast Cancer Surgery, and many more. We toured the OT (operation theatre), acquainting ourselves with the different surgical instruments, witnessed blood oozing out, the rise and fall of the instrument beep in some critical and otherwise cheerful operation environments. 

We had a few problems and ideas to work on in fifteen exciting days. We researched and presented draft solutions to the concerned doctors. A group of considerate students at KGMU, who called themselves ‘Soul Cushions,’ even organized a hackathon at KGMU which was judged by the doctors. The seven of us were divided into three teams and grouped with MBBS students to solve the hackathon problems.”
Tarun, another group member, says, “One of the biggest things I noticed was the complementarity of expertise. While the doctors and nurses have the exposure and know how to identify problems, they do not know of the possibilities offered by technology, that can be applied to create solutions. 

The staff we interacted with were all very welcoming and tried to accommodate our wildest ideas and did their best to answer our myriad queries. Especially Dr. Rishi who made sure things stayed focused while still having fun. Also, for Akshay (another member) and me, it was a great glimpse into the career path we almost chose as we both left the field of medicine to study in IIT.”

The environment of the OT and the hospital took Akshay Shendre back to his college years. “It gave us the glimpse into the reality that how people of the developing nations like ours are sometimes not even able to buy a medicinal item of Rs. 50 which might be easily available in other developed nations. That is the real motivation for me, I think, to use engineering to solve such problems,” he said.

The doctors offered feedback on their instruments and techniques and their team could get the professional opinion on how to apply engineering knowledge to make those instruments better. Sambhav urges IIT-K students to join this programme as it is a huge learning experience while also very enjoyable. “Students could end up designing solutions to problems which can save lives while learning designing, managing, and networking with people,” he added.

After the successful completion of the program, IIT-K sent its second batch in the first week of June 2018 to KGMU which also analyzed similar problems as the first batch did. During the rest of the summer of 2018, students from both the batches further brainstormed over the ideas acquired from their experiences at KGMU and shared them with the faculty at IIT-K and developed the prototype. They also discussed their plans with doctors and debated on whether any of them has commercial values.

Future prospects

Prof. Bandyopadhyay feels that our institute is trying its best to set up an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and calls out for support from students and members of the faculty for this goal. His mission is to engage faculty and students on a daily basis; not asking them to start a business right away, but to attend seminars and meetups with doctors and healthcare professionals, which the Bio-Incubator and the BSBE department conducts. For students, he advises, 
Be aware of the things around you and something might click.