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News Category: India


Students in India delve into the Complex Genome


 

Student receiving diplomaThe following article, originally published in News Karnataka, covers the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute’s Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning Program (B4)’s most recent workshop. B4 aims to build a scientific research corridor and will engage scientists from India and Harvard through exchange programs: 1) Science and Technology Fellowships at Harvard and other peer institutions in the Boston area. 2) Two-week courses on Biosciences in Bangalore. 

 

Bengaluru: From over 220 applications, 25 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students from across India were selected to participate in a residential two-week workshop in ‘Genomics in Healthcare and Translational Research’ from December 2017. This workshop was under the aegis of the B4 (Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings) Program, funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, and supported by the IT/BT Department, Government of Karnataka.

The aim of the Genomics workshop was to “introduce talented Indian students to the emerging area of genomics and enable them to explore the power and excitement of Next Generation Sequencing technologies to address clinically relevant research questions,” said Professor M. Vijayalakshmi, IBAB, who was instrumental in developing the curriculum for the workshop.

Genomics and Next-generation Sequencing technologies have influenced scientific research and medicine significantly, and have made a striking impact on healthcare and translational medicine over the last decade. The capability to sequence DNA at higher speeds with precision and resolution unravels several dimensions of the complex genome and enhances the applicability of genomic information in personalized medicine.

Distinguished faculty and postdoctoral fellows from institutions such as Boston University, Harvard University, Broad Institute (Boston), ACTREC (Mumbai), IGIB (Delhi), CCMB (Hyderabad), IISC and NCBS (Bangalore) trained the participants on both the experimental aspects of genomic sequencing and computational analysis of sequencing data, through didactic research lectures and hands-on sessions. The workshop concluded on December 23 with a panel discussion on ‘Genomics – Trends and Opportunities’.

Following the workshop was the valedictory event of the first phase of B4. The keynote address was delivered by Dr. VijayRaghavan (Secretary, DBT), who highlighted the current and future study and practice of Biosciences in India. He emphasized the need to build a science-based ecosystem that is sensitive to the nation’s needs.

Dr. VijayRaghavan’s talk was followed by a panel moderated by Prof. Venkatesh Murthy, Chair of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Harvard University, and lead faculty of the B4 Program. The discussion focused on the impact of the program in India. Panelists included Aditya Murthy, IISC, and three B4 fellows, Parvathi Sreekumar, Ramya Purkanti, and Gayatri Ramakrishnan, who have recently returned from a year at Harvard.

The closing vote of thanks was delivered by Prof. N. Yathindra, Director, IBAB, who spoke of the value of the B4 Program for the young Indian scientists and the bridge created between academic institutions in the US and India. He also emphasized the value of translation of knowledge from academia to practice.

(Originally published on News Karnataka on December 26, 2017)

Learn more about the B4 Program.

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From Boston To Bangalore: We Co-host Successful Genomics Workshop In India


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About | B4 Fellowships Genomics Workshop Past Courses | Resources | News

 

On December 11th, the Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) program formally inaugurated the Workshop on Genomic Applications in Healthcare & Translational Research, co-hosted by the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University and Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB).

In her inaugural address, Dr. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (Founder-Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon India Pvt Ltd) described Boston and Bangalore as cities that naturally gravitate towards innovation and science. Dr. Shaw discussed the need for scientists and doctors to incorporate big data in the development of clinical trials as well as new therapeutic approaches.

The 25 selected candidates are from all over India and represent research backgrounds ranging from pharmacology to rice genomics. The intensive two-week workshop includes daily lectures and hands-on sessions, culminating in a valedictory event featuring a key note by Dr. VijayRaghavan (Secretary of Department of Biotechnology, India.)

For the first week, students will learn about introductory genomics, cancer genomics, clinical genomics and the genomics of non-coding RNA. The students’ first hands on session was on computing with Linux, led by Dr. Subhashini Srinivasan (IBAB) and Dr. Jian Carrot Zhang (Broad Institute). The session ended with a discussion about how much about the human genome is still unknown. Another session will explore how to apply what they are learning to newborn hearing screenings.

Information from a patient’s genome is increasingly useful for diagnosis and therapy as a critical part of clinical care. Organizations such as The Human Genome Project, ENCODE (Encyclopedia of Human Elements), and the Human Epigenome Consortium have advanced our understanding of the etiology of disease and its progression. This has spurred a great deal of excitement in personalized medicine, which uses genomic and epigenomic information to guide diagnosis and therapy. Gene panel-based diagnosis, genomic markers for disease screening, and newborn screenings have created avenues for therapy and early diagnosis.

Genomics and next-generation sequencing technologies have influenced scientific research and medicine significantly, which has made a striking impact on healthcare and translational medicine over the last decade. The capability to sequence DNA at higher speeds with precision and resolution unravels several dimensions of the complex genome and enhances the applicability of genomic information in personalized medicine. 

 

The workshop is sponsored by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.

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“Wastage of food is not less than a social delinquency”


Our India Country Director, Sanjay Kumar, has written a powerful op-ed in The Hindu newspaper about the issue of food wastage in the country. He writes:

Food wastage has multiple socio-economic and environmental impacts. In a country like India, not only is food scarce for many poor families, it is a luxury for many others. Though hunger cannot be tackled directly by preventing food wastage, a substantial amount of food that is wasted in our country can feed many hungry people. India ranked 97th among 118 countries in the Global Hunger Index for 2016. About 20 crore people go to bed hungry and 7,000 people die of hunger every day; wastage of food is not less than a social delinquency.

Read the full piece here.

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Does the Fight for Working Women’s Rights in India Leave Out Informal Workers?


Tata Trusts and Harvard University South Asia Institute (SAI) recently embarked on a collaborative journey in knowledge creation and capacity building for social and economic empowerment in India. The 18-month research project titled, Livelihood Creation in India through Social Entrepreneurship and Skill Development (beginning October 2015) was the first step in this direction. The project focused on three key areas including rural livelihood creation (emphasis on the handicrafts and handloom sectors); educational, social and economic empowerment of women; and science and technology-based interventions for poverty alleviation.

There is consensus that India’s future growth depends in part on addressing the severe current deficit in gender equality. Much work has been done to address this discrimination through legislation, social policy, grass roots organizing, educational targeting, and public sector training. Despite the imperative of higher education as a preparation for engagement in a skill based global economy, only 6% of rural girls make it to college. 46%of Indian girls are still married before they are 18, and 16% experience their first pregnancy before they are 15 years old. At the same time, sexual violence against women continues to be reported at high levels—every third Indian woman between the ages of 15 and 49 years has experienced sexual or physical violence during her lifetime. Women are severely underrepresented in leadership positions in industry, academia, and government.

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Inaugural Harvard B4 Fellowship Opens New Doors for Postdocs


Left to Right: Venki Murthy, Ramya Purkanti, Gayatri Ramakrishnan, Parvathi Sreekumar, and Praveen Anand

One year ago when Parvathi Sreekumar earned her PhD in Crop Physiology at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, she never would have guessed that today she’d be halfway around the world, learning computational biology and bioinformatics to study bacteria in Philippe Cluzel’s lab. Yet here she is in Cambridge, along with three other research fellows from Bangalore who were awarded the inaugural Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) Fellowship, co-sponsored by the South Asia Institute (SAI) at Harvard University and the Institute for Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB) in Bangalore. The four fellows, selected from over 52 applicants, earned their PhDs in different fields from different institutes in India, but all now share the unique experience of spending 11 months pursuing research in a completely new direction at Harvard. “Being part of this fellowship is broadening my research exposure and equipping me with new skills that I can go home and implement in India. I’m grateful that students from diverse fields are being given an opportunity like this,” says Sreekumar.

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Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India


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Professor Jennifer Leaning discusses forced migration at one of our Partition seminars

 

By Tarun Khanna (Director, SAI; Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School)

Both my mother’s and my father’s sides of our family migrated from what is now Pakistan. As a result of Partition, many of them had to leave their lives behind, with years of hard work quickly wiped out, when they moved to New Delhi and were forced to start again. Partition has always been part of my family’s folklore but my grandfather, who bore the brunt of it, passed away very early. I never had the opportunity to discuss it with him.

At the SAI, we have embarked on a major research project to understand the history, context and continuing impact of Partition, as its 70th anniversary approaches. There has, of course, always been a great deal of interest in this defining historical event from scholars at Harvard and elsewhere. Professor Jennifer Leaning’s team from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has been studying Partition for more than a decade — her ongoing work is central to our collective research.

At the SAI, we have already undertaken a major interdisciplinary project of a similar scale. Our work on the Kumbh Mela was a very successful collaborative effort involving dozens of faculty, students, graduates and undergraduates. We created a platform so that other people could participate; scholars from the region as well as other universities around the world. We produced scholarly papers, videos, architectural designs and ultimately, a book.

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President of India honors Harvard Research Fellow


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Dr Satchit Balsari – a frequent and highly-valued South Asia Institute collaborator – received a prestigious Dr BC Roy National Award from Pranab Mukherjee, President of India, at a ceremony in New Delhi earlier this month. He was honored for outstanding services in the field of sociomedical relief.

Dr Balsari is a Research Fellow at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and Director of the Global Emergency Medicine Program at Weill Cornell Medical College/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

His inter-disciplinary interests in mobile technology, disaster response and population health have been informed by his clinical practice in New York City and his field work around the world including, more recently, in Jordan, Iraq, South Sudan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. His research has resulted in innovative applications of mobile, cloud-based technology to address public health challenges in mass gatherings, disasters and humanitarian crises.

At the FXB Center, Dr Balsari’s research has contributed to advocacy on behalf vulnerable populations affected by disasters and humanitarian crises, including children in Haiti, refugees in Jordan and the Rohingya in Bangladesh. He is currently part of Professor Jennifer Leaning’s team assessing the impact of the Syrian war on medicine and public health in the region

At Harvard, Dr Balsari co-teaches a university-wide course “Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social and Economic Problems,” led by SAI Director Professor Tarun Khanna; and “Societal Response to Disaster and War”, with Professor Leaning at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

In the summer of 2017, Dr Balsari will join Harvard Medical School as faculty in emergency medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

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Building Budding Brain Biologists: Harvard’s inaugural B4 Program in India


In the gleaming academic fortress of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore, India, MCB professor Venkatesh Murthy and Advisor/Preceptor Laura Magnotti spent two weeks over winter break giving 25 engineering and computer science students a crash course in something completely different: neuroscience. The Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning (B4) Program, which is administered by the Harvard South Asia Institute, hand-selected the participants from about 150 undergraduate and graduate student applicants from all over India. It is supported by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Government of Karnataka’s Department of Information Technology & Biotechnology. Through a series of five daily sessions consisting of three lectures, one presentation by a local scientist, and one hands-on demo that included activities from dissecting a goat brain to recording action potentials from a cricket leg, the students gained a comprehensive knowledge of the field of neuroscience, basic concepts, and how to apply them. “Teaching this short winter course to smart and enthusiastic students without much of a neuroscience background was gratifying because we could see in real time how excited and awestruck they became about the brain,” says Murthy, director of the B4 program.

Why teach neuroscience to students who are committed to degrees in other fields? “The educational system in India is very narrow. There are no general education requirements; once a student enters university, they pretty much only take courses in their declared field of study,” says Magnotti. Murthy himself was educated in that system at the Indian Institutes of Technology: “I only learned about biology as a research endeavor when I came to the US for grad school, and then I ended up making a career out of it. If India’s brightest students don’t know that some of the questions and ideas they come up with can be applied to solve problems in other fields, they might never do that.” The three NCBS PhD students who were teaching assistants for the B4 course – Siddharth Jayakumar, Sahil Moza, and Mostafizur Rahman –  agree. “I honestly wish I had access to such a course when I was a curious undergraduate student in India thinking about the brain,” says Moza.

Neuroscience is a logical gateway for bridging the gap between engineering and biology. “In the B4 program we describe neurons as electronic circuits, and axons as cables,” explains Magnotti, “and lots of theories from engineering and electronics are easily applicable to neurobiology. These are real applications of the concepts the students have already been learning, so they don’t have to start completely over in order to explore the new field of biology.”

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