Work on the medical/healthcare front is among the key concerns for the NER as much as for the rest of the country. The activities in NER may be categorised as follows:
1. Infrastructure Development
2. R&D Programmes: Twinning projects
3. Human Resource Development: Training and Capacity Building
4. Establishing state-of-the-art facilities for improved diagnostic services and R&D activities
In fact, the first major initiative of DBT in NER was the 5-year programme on “Development/upgradation of infrastructure in medical colleges in the North Eastern States of India”, sanctioned in the year 2009-2010. This programme has contributed towards strengthening diagnostic and R&D infrastructure at 21 labs in 11 medical colleges/institutes located in four northeastern states, viz. Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura. The programme is likely to be extended to cover the remaining medical colleges/institutions across all eight states of NER. The Medical/Healthcare biotechnology programme of NER-BPMC has since been expanded and is now being implemented by supporting collaborative Twinning R&D projects, and establishing state-of-the-art diagnostic facilities to enhance patient care and generate credible data for future R&D projects in biomedicine.
DBT’s NER-BPMC has mentored and provided financial support for establishing sophisticated infrastructure for improved diagnostic services in pathology, hematology and genetics departments at the North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS), Shillong (Meghalaya). This 5-year project was initiated in the year 2012-2013. The project is expected to significantly improve the efficiency of the diagnostic services of the institute, and will also help in generating credible statistics about various diseases leading to relevant research questions to be pursued subsequently. All this will be of immense benefit to the patients of NER.
Short-term hands-on training programme on advanced techniques in infectious disease diagnosis, molecular biology techniques in cancer biology, and research methodology workshops have been designed and carried out for the benefit of bio-medical scientists from NER. These activities have been implemented through collaboration with reputed organisations such as AIIMS, New Delhi, INCLEN International Trust, New Delhi etc.
The Research Methodology workshops are meant for P.G. Students (MD/MS) and their thesis guides, and are conducted in an environment facilitating one to one interaction between the resource person(s) and the participants, in addition to lecture presentations. Based on the number of MD/MS Thesis grants awarded, the following three sites were identified for the first set of three workshops: Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Guwahati (Assam); Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Imphal (Manipur); and Agartala Govt. Medical College (AGMC), Agartala (Tripura).
The short-term training in infectious disease diagnosis, conducted at AIIMS, New Delhi, was designed for the North-East scientists with the following objectives: To impart theoretical knowledge of recent advances in epidemiology and diagnosis of infectious diseases at global and regional level; To impart hands-on practical knowledge of molecular methods for the diagnosis of various infectious diseases prevalent in Indian and specially NER; To provide them an opportunity to handle the sophisticated instruments and to have hands-on experience of performing various molecular test.
The two-week course consisted of a theory class followed by practical demonstration or hands on practical training each day.
Intensive training courses in molecular biology techniques, proteomics & genomics studies, as well as in cancer biology are in the pipeline for the year 2014-15.
DBT has also launched a scheme on the Research Grants to support the MD/MS thesis to Medical Students in NER. The scheme was launched in the year 2011-2012; It provides one time support (upto Rs. 1.5 lakh per MD/MS project) to encourage the use of experimental biology/biotechnology tools in pursuing research on relevant biomedical subjects. This scheme has engendered widespread enthusiasm in the medical students’ fraternity in the NER; nearly 150 PG students have already benefited from this scheme.
In the year 2012-2013 was established this diagnostic facility at the Assam Medical College & Hospital (AMCH), Dibrugarh (Assam), the oldest medical college in NER. This facility is expected to bring a revolution in the field of health care services in the NER by providing state-of-the-art medical services at reasonable cost to the needy in the region. These services will cover genetic disease due to chromosomal aberration, single gene mutation, hemoglobinopathy and prenatal screening under the following 3 major units: (a). Cytogenetics unit, (b). Molecular Genetics unit, and (c). Biochemical Genetics unit. In addition, the programme includes a Clinical Evaluation and Genetic Counseling unit and a DNA Bio-bank.
NER-BPMC/DBT has established a molecular diagnostic laboratory at the Mizoram State Cancer Institute (MSCI), Aizawl (Mizoram). Mizoram has a total population of about 11 lakhs and a literacy rate of 91.58%. Regrettably, Mizoram also has the highest prevalence of tobacco usage in India and the dubious distinction of having the highest incidence of cancer in India. Recently MSCI was set up to work towards mitigating the scourge of cancer in Mizoram.
Recognising that accurate and precise diagnosis is the cornerstone of any successful cancer treatment, DBT has established this molecular laboratory which will not only enhance the quality of comprehensive cancer care but will also foster quality research to understand the factors underlying high incidence of cancer in the State.
The initial focus of the research project would be on three cancer types commonly encountered in Mizoram:
1. Chronic myeloid leukemia (BCR-ABL translocation);
2. Breast cancer (HER2/neu) and
3. Lung cancer (EGFR).
Dr T Madhan Mohan, Adviser,
Department of Biotechnology,
Ministry of Science and Technology, New Delhi