Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bt brinjal: India does not have Bt testing facility and yet supports genetically modified egg plant

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 24: Even as the Centre is gathering public opinion on the introduction of Bt brinjal for human consumption, strangely enough the country does not have the facility to test the toxicity or otherwise of
bacillus thuringiensis or Bt gene.

India does not have a Bt laboratory and the Central government's support for introduction of Bt brinjal in the market is based more on political considerations rather than scientific studies. In the absence of credible tests, public consultations will not help much.
"How can the Central government vouchsafe for the long term health safety of the people, who consume Bt brinjal, when it does not have a Bt testing lab, in the first place? Brinjal is not a staple food and I suspect that Bt brinjal is being pushed with ulterior motives for introduction of new genetically modified food crops in the country," argues eminent geneticist Dr Krishna Rao Dronamraju, who heads the Foundation for Genetic Research, Houstan, USA.
The Centre is banking on the results of animal studies, which cannot always be extrapolated on human beings. The physiology of human beings is complex as compared to that of animals. Several studies on
animal models have failed when extrapolated on man. Moreover, there's no guarantee that the nutritional value or taste will be enhanced by producing Bt brinjal.
According to Dr Krishna Rao, Bt brinjal has about 15 per cent less calories and different alkaloid content compared to non-GM brinjal. "Bt brinjal produces a protein in the vegetable cells that induce antibiotic resistance," he said demanding a two-year moratorium on commercial release of Bt brinjal.
Brinjal, although an important part of human diet, will hardly solve the problem of poverty in India. There are other major crops such as wheat and rice, which require urgent attention. The green revolution that was
introduced by Prof MS Swaminathan long ago, is now fading and it is time to look for other methods for increasing food productivity and quality, he said.
The risk of contamination of neighbouring non-GM crops is a major problem. The Convention on Biological Diversity and Cartagena protocol require that any GM food should be pre-tested carefully before
their release for commerical production.

Republic Day special: Freedom to Discover - Open Source Drug Discovery gives a new direction to Indian Republic

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 25: Have an idea? No matter who you are. Contribute your idea and get credit points from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. Your idea could bring down the cost of medicine by at least 50 per cent.
As India celebrates its 60th year of Republic, every person, irrespective of his social and professional background, gets the freedom to discover. Discovery of novel drugs and scientific research is no longer the prerogative of laboratories and universities. Those who could not become scientists or researchers can now realise their dreams, sitting at home or office.
Thanks to the Open Source Drug Discovery project launched by the CSIR, even those who are not connected to science and technology can contribute their ideas and research on select projects. The project could be drug discovery or improvement, decoding the secrets of genes, unravelling the mysteries hidden behind diseases or study of pathogens.
"Universities, students, scientists - almost anyone, who wants to solve challenging problems in drug discovery or are ready to share their time/resources are welcome to participate in this initiative," says the CSIR

OSDD is a CSIR Team India Consortium with global partnership to provide affordable healthcare. According to eminent biotechnologist from the USA, Dr DR Krishna, "it is really a novel initiative where the best minds can collaborate and collectively endeavour to solve the complex problems associated with discovering novel therapies for neglected tropical diseases including malaria and TB".
The CSIR initiative is indeed a gateway to discovery as it provides a unique opportunity for scientists, doctors, technocrats, students and the general public with diverse expertise to work for a common cause.
The Central government has allotted Rs 150 crore for the project. "An idea, software, data, an article or molecule(s) that help in expediting the process of drug discovery will be treated as a contribution under OSDD," said senior scientist Dr M Khwaja.
The CSIR has fixed certain credit points for certain tasks. Based on the contribution one makes, he or she will get credit points and they continue to add up to the score. The participants will get blue, silver, gold or platinum cards and the points they earn are added to their unique account.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

And now the blind can see with the tooth

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 19: The blind can now see with tooth. Sounds strange, but city eye surgeons have gained expertise in this radical medical technique that makes tooth function like an eye.

Eye sight is normally restored in the blind through corneal implant. But in about 10 per cent of blind cases, corneal implant will not help in providing vision. Such persons can now go in for a procedure medically called osteo-odonto keratoprosthesis or OOKP for short. This procedure involves removing a tooth of the blind person, drilling a hole into it and implanting an artificial lens into the hole. Then the tooth is implanted into the eye, providing vision to the blind.

It is recommended for people who have corneal opacification due to chemical burns, severe allergy or dry eyes.

"In OOKP we use a sliver of dental tissue to support a telescopic lens. The technique is meant for patients who are otherwise not suited to undergoing conventional corneal transplants due to extreme ocular surface damage. Such patients now have hope of regaining some vision," said Dr GN Rao, head of LV Prasad Eye Institute and Dr Veran Sangwan, associate director and head of corneal services, LVPEI.

The cornea services at LVPEI has already been offering a similar treatment with the Boston Keratoprosthesis, in which an artificial telescopic device is implanted in the cornea. Several patients, some of whom suffered vision loss due to chemical or fire accidents, have benefited from Boston KPro implants. The OOKP technique goes a step further in using the patient’s own dental tissue to provide the supporting framework for the telescopic lens, which decreases the risk of rejection.

Professor Giancarlo Falcinelli from Italy, along with Dr Anthony Aldave from the University of California, Los Angeles, are at LVPEI, to work with doctors here on perfecting this and other prosthetic techniques.