Lockdown diaries iii

Driven by the fear for our lives, every research lab across the world is investing all resources into finding a vaccine or even a reasonable way to stop the SARS-CoV2 rampage. Every individual or organization that can contribute to that cause, is racing against time. We crossed the 100 day mark since the world knew about the novel coronavirus disease. The numbers are above 1,600,000 cases in the world which is an average of 16,000 people infected every day and about 950 people dying each day out of that disease. Too many numbers and too many comparisons with previous pandemics or earlier viral outbreaks and the unpredictable trajectory of this virus. The blame game and the conspiracy theories flood our news feeds.  

It seems like a deep dive into the ocean of overwhelming information and misinformation on this new disease. And every individual comes up with their theories and hypotheses. Part of the world admits that it is driven by fear and worries about how this pandemic ends and the other half is busy behaving like Ostriches- in denial cooped up in their dens, hoping no inconvenience shows up in their plans and lives because of a damned virus.

A cure is nowhere near and expecting scientists to pull one out, like the rabbit out of the magician’s hat, is absurd. Vaccines take years of research and trials before it benefits the public. There might be interim solutions but they come with their share of side effects. Until a feasible option is available, why not comply with the common sense of staying away from people to break the infectious chain? There is enough proof of health workers who have died fighting on the frontlines, irrespective of the age group. The only way non health workers can help is to stay away and stay home.

Every member of my family is negotiating their way through the barge of infected individuals headon. A constant worry underlies my actions and reactions through the day. I cannot help but wonder if I should be doing something. It is extremely frustrating to stand on the sidelines and watch them helplessly take on the wrath of the pandemic. Yet on every call, every message, they assure me this is the best I can do to share their burdens.

Lockdown diaries ii

Chaotic as expected. Everybody is scrambling to save their own asses or expecting the higher ups to take better decisions for the sake of the greater good. Both the extremes clash in most cases and results in inaction. The leaders are failing people and a lot of people are failing their communities. 

Spoke to G & M. Their respective hospitals have opened their doors to suspected and positive cases. They look around their own colleagues and see an extremely low morale. Doctors or not, they are humans. M fretted over why has the hospital shirked away from the responsibility at such unusual times. With the lockdown on, a lot of employees have trouble getting to work- why not do something for their transport? All the prediction models say we are yet to hit the peak of the outbreak, then what are we waiting for? Indecisiveness at higher levels of management delays actions that can stop the worst from hitting the population. G worried about colleagues fussing over being sent to the frontlines without proper protective gear. Fear can be at an all time high as compared to the sense of responsibilities. In these unusual circumstances, it is important for people to rise up to the occasion and dispel more than just duties. Why is it so difficult to act for the sake of mankind unless one of your loved ones is suffering? Why are we failing to understand the urgency to act and try to avoid dangers of the situation? It is not such a pleasant state of mind to go to work with people who are ready to run away from the pile of problems owing to the pandemic, knowing fully well that they are the only ones equipped to ‘flatten the curve’ of the rapidly spreading disease. 

This pandemic is a result of not only a severely contagious mutant virus but also because of multiple weak links handing down chaos to people around. When the pandemic is over, there might be a major chunk of the population suffering from Post Trauma Stress Disorder. And may be much more that we cannot anticipate yet.

Dia de Muertos

The Mexicans celebrate Dia de Muertos sometime in November to remember their dead. Loved ones lost. A few years ago, the movie Coco, was based on this Day of remembrance. In our traditions, I am not aware of any such specific day assigned to remember the lost family members but we definitely delve into our memories deeper on the day we lost them, year after year.

It is understandable when you have lost somebody and you miss them. But I hadn’t ever heard wishing the presence of someone who they have never met. I somehow, fall into that category. After I had completed my earthly presence for three decades, I married into this family. Father-in-law was long gone. Almost a decade by then. Any and every member of the extended family and friends, that I was introduced to, told me the same thing – ‘that man would have pampered you to bits’, ‘The daughter he never had’, ‘you missed meeting a good man’ and many more that I chose to ignore beyond a point. Because each time I heard something on those lines, there was a sense of deep regret, as if I should have met this man way before he was gone. As if I delayed in getting here. Survived by his wife and sons, and millions of friends, there wasn’t a person who spoke any other way but fondly of him. Evenings were full of his stories and how he added life to the room full of people. Everybody’s eyes lit up when he was mentioned and there were always more stories to be shared.

As months passed by, I started seeing the void that his absence had left in the family. I wished more and more that I had gotten a chance to meet him. As I went through the old family pictures, I started forming an image of the kind of person he might have been. With all the stories that I have heard about him from specific corners of the house- what his favorite spot was in the living room, how he loved spending the evening in the bar, his early morning cooking endeavors, his routine through the day- for a long time those particular parts of the house made his holographic self show up to me. It was haunting but in a good way. As if he would start a conversation with me right away. And I would lament away the evening in more regret of not knowing my Father-in-law. I miss never having met him.

If his holographic image in my head had suddenly communicated with me, I am not sure how I would have reacted. If I should introduce myself or does he know that I exist in the family already. I don’t know and I will never know.

A fine gentleman I indeed, missed, meeting!! So I did what I do best. A sketch of him shall do unless I am allowed to be ferried to the Land of the Dead for a day. Until then, may he live long in the hearts and memories of his near and dear ones.

Lockdown begins

Last night, the Prime Minister called for a 21 day lockdown. It was 8pm. Four hours to the beginning of an unprecedented halt to our daily lives since the Indo-Pak face-off in 1971. Panic-stricken public went on a hoarding rampage right away. Our generation (millennials) were as confused as they were when they hit their teens. They have never witnessed any such interference in their daily lives. The educated mass scrambled through every possible electronic source to check on ‘What on earth is this virus? And why is the whole world in a frenzy because of that minuscule particle? Why is the health industry in such a bad shape? What is the government doing?’ All the research fuzzed up the brains even more. The innumerable infographs on statistics from earlier pandemics to the variables in the present scenario and the comparative studies of action taken by the other countries were of no help to unclench the knotted up guts.

On the other hand, doctors pretended to go about their daily lives, suppressing the fear of life into the deep corners of their minds, making sincere efforts to ensure the growing fear doesn’t clog their judgements in treating patients. They turn a blind eye to the sword of a virulent infection hanging beside their neck and continue to look for hope in the recovering patients. Hope rises within them, as they sign off discharge sheets for few, yet the fear, for numerous patients being admitted everyday, is weighing heavier. Long duty hours as per the roster come to a close and begin again. There is no scope to hang up the gowns, or change the ever-so-scarce gloves or masks and walk out to breathe the fresh air. The cycle of the tests to treatment goes on and the faces behind the masks continue fighting this battle silently. 

They won the battle today. They survived today. Tomorrow will bring in more challenges. Their lives had reached the proverbial living one moment at a time…

The unusual war had begun three months ago in a faraway land. And now it is at our doorstep. The health sector stands guard on the frontlines. Their only weapons – team of health care workers, their only hope – lesser number of positive cases. We sit in the comfort of our homes and keep a check on the numbers increasing on the screen, while they scuttle around to save whoever comes their way until they have to send them home or send them to the morgue. We fret over the graph not flattening while they fret over the survival of the fazed and ill people around them. We worry about when and how our lives will go back to normal while they wonder if they themselves will survive the pandemic.

The war with the grossly unmatched opponent began

As the lockdown began for the general public, a countdown began for the health industry workers.

Adios ‘2018

Few more days to go before 2019 walks in and it’s goodbye 2018. It has become customary to think of what has gone by and what better way to live the new year. The past year has been an absolute roller coaster. As far as memory goes, no other year has shaken me up with joys as well as absolute disasters like 2018. Peaks and valleys in both personal and professional fronts rocked our daily lives—sometimes the same day. I can go on and on and on…..

Despite all the drama, I managed to reach my reading challenge of a meagre 25 books through the whole year. And it so happens that one of the last books I read was “Sikkim: requiem for a Himalayan kingdom”. This was triggered by a recent trip to Sikkim and surprising revelations about the state.

On our first day in Sikkim, as we drove through the mountain roads, our driver guide casually said, “Please ask me whatever you want about Sikkim, including its history.” I thought for a while and wondered every Indian state has a similar history for the last two centuries since the British took over every nook and corner of the country. So what’s so different about Sikkim. May be he sensed my ignorance and summarised the history in one line. “We became the 22nd state of India in 1975. Until then we were a separate Buddhist kingdom.” My jaws dropped. How did I not know such an important part of our country’s history.

This is why the book by Andrew Duff ended up in my reading list. It took me a whole month to read through the book but at the end, I realised the Chogyal of Sikkim went through highs and lows throughout his life for his dream of an independent Sikkim which in any case came crashing down before he died. People came and went in his life—some in support and some against. Yet all along he stood to defend his unwavering love for his kingdom and to safeguard their interests. He might have been stubborn to an irrational degree but lived his life for his passion, dreams and belief. And taught an extremely important lesson to everybody—no amount of time spent chasing your dreams is enough and there is no guarantee of dreams coming true. But that’s the only way I would like to live my life.

The Rainbow Nation

On a bright sunny day, few hours later, we walked out grim. The silence was heavy. Neither of us had a clue about how to start a conversation. We were brimming with shame, empathy, compassion…. No words were going to suffice for what we felt. We covered the 45 mins drive back to the hotel without uttering a word. Thankfully the uber driver had the radio on in the background. I wondered later if the cab drivers are used to the sombre state of passengers boarding after a trip to the Apartheid museum.


After millions of safety warnings from anybody and everybody who has ever heard of Johannesburg, we decided to cut our time there to a single day. That was to be our last day in South Africa. The people, the places, the wildlife, the lifestyle.. name any aspect of the country and we would say we had fallen in love with it. Now what is it that remained to pick on from this country – its history. Hence the place to go was the Apartheid museum at Johannesburg to mark the concluding day of our time in SA.

42230910674_2460b255a1_zIt all began with the Gold rush. People of all races from all corners of the world landed at SA to make their fortunes. The natives struggled through all of this being displaced by fortune seekers. Before they knew, the social hierarchy had been created based on the colour of the skin. Fairest being at the top and darkest at the bottom which constituted most natives. Many people rose up to the struggle and perished.

mandela-e1532065230311A century ago, was born Rohlihlahla Mandela who would eventually lead the country in its final battle against apartheid. Years of perseverance and suffering couldn’t break the man’s will but strengthened it manifold only to realize his dream of earning the dignity and right to a decent life for his countrymen. Almost a century of fighting for a country sans racism, they succeeded in abolishing apartheid, a mere 25 years ago. It isn’t easy for the oppressed sections of the society to wake up one fine day to the abolition of apartheid and forget the sufferings, but the attempts to move on are evident. To bring back the confidence of the people who were badgered for a century, might take more than a lifetime to mend. But the hope and the optimism makes up for the starting point.

42874760051_70251d8e1e_zA fairly young country, South Africa, is still trying to live in harmony with all races as part of their social structure. The diversity eventually led South Africa to be called as the Rainbow Nation.

The Apartheid museum has been built with a lot of passion keeping in mind the struggle of the common man in South Africa to earn the fundamental right to a decent living. And as a constant reminder to the future generations to respect the treacherous path their forefathers walked to give them the life of dignity.


Cape of storms

“Please stand in the queue here for your turn to take a picture with the CAPE OF GOOD HOPE board”, said Marcon. I was thrilled to know that we have reached the southernmost point of the African continent… Until our turn came and the board came into view.

Most southwestern point??? There has to be a mistake. Isn’t this supposed to be the southern most point? I gave a confused look to Marcon and before I could ask, he smiled and said the southernmost point of the dark continent is about three hours drive from here. And where would that be? Cape L’Agulhas! Where on earth is this? Why did I not know this earlier?

Marcon clarified later most people have this assumption that Cape of Good Hope is the southern most point but it’s just a popular place because it lies within Cape Town limits. Tourists flock this town and Cape Point is a half day tour. This Cape was first named as Cape of storms because ships sailing all across the world were never able to dock due to severe damages suffered in storms. But because it opened up the pathway from the Western Hemisphere to the eastern world for trade, it was renamed the Cape of Good Hope.

At this point I had decided we have to go to this ‘Cape whatever’ that marks the tip of the continent. So couple of days later when we head out towards Mossel Bay on the Garden Route we took the 80 kms diversion to go see this place. Overlooked by a typical lighthouse, this unassuming place was very significant in terms of geography of the continent.

The Indian ocean and the Atlantic ocean meet here. The warm Agulhas current for the Indian Ocean clashes with the cold current from the west resulting in strong winds and storms. Historically known as the Cape of Needles, it has been known to have sunk big ships in the early days due to the weather conditions and the rocky outcrops.

With only a bunch of tourists, and may be a few locals idling around on rocks, there was no queue here for a photograph with the plaque. One would probably see more sea gulls than people along the coastline of the town. A quaint little town, L’Agulhas, serving as it’s approach, the cape continues to maintain its importance in a quiet and a sombre way.

A great earthquake overdue in the central Himalaya

February 12, 2015

A team of scientists have been digging deeper into the central Himalayas, only to discover a previous pulse of great earthquakes followed by a long quiet period since the last great earthquake under the huge layers of rock and soil within those mountains.

The earth’s crust is broken into distinct regions, called “tectonic plates”. It is well known that Himalayas are the result of converging continental tectonic plates. There is an ongoing northward movement of the Indian plate towards Tibet at the rate of 20±3 mm/year and the southern part of Tibet that interfaces with India is absorbing about 80% of this convergence. This means that these regions are accumulating a large amount of strain, which they release in the form of great earthquakes (greater than magnitude 8).

The central Himalaya is considered to be historically a “seismic gap”..In the past centuries, only two earthquakes have occurred in this region whose magnitudes weren’t enough to release the strain that is building within the plates. So, are we missing some great earthquakes that occurred sometime in the past?

The excavation sites near Ramnagar in Central Himalaya suggested that there have been successive occurrences of two great earthquakes in the region in 13th and 14th centuries AD but none since then. It means that the strain is accumulating and the region is currently locked, only to get released anytime in a great earthquake. Longer the relapse time since the last earthquake, larger will the expected dimensions of the potential future slip and greater would be its damage potential.

A great earthquake in the central Himalaya will be most devastating and damaging for a wide swath of Gangetic plains of north India and the Himalayan hills. Mitigation of damage from future earthquakes is based on hazard scenarios developed from earthquake history; geological evidence from past earthquakes is an essential component in probabilistic seismic hazard assessment models. This study helps to fill that important gap in data for the earthquake history of the central Himalaya, a region, which several previous studies have postulated to be ready for a great earthquake.

Further work in the area is required to refine the results and tectonic models to understand the rupture segmentations along the arc. Dr. Rajendran said, “All the major cities in the region need to get ready for this major hazard, which is going to be economically and otherwise most devastating, as the risk has increased multifold over the centuries due to population increase and expansion of built environment. From the Government level serious thinking should go into evolving effective methods to meet such eventualities. Effective hazard reduction models may be available from the western United States and Japan. Urgent action plan should be put in place for public awareness and enforcement of building codes and related environmental laws – important hazard reduction steps in the current context of expanding urban centres with high-rise buildings. Heritage structures and monuments and the critical facilities in the region require reinforcement and retrofitting to withstand severe ground shaking”.

– See more at: http://iisc.researchmedia.center/article/great-earthquake-overdue-central-himalaya#sthash.mHd86Pyy.dpuf

Next Generation Sequencing Meets Traditional medicine

June 4th, 2015

Traditional knowledge in combination with modern scientific techniques could help unravel deep hidden mysteries. Scientists from NCBS, Bangalore, have revisited the age old knowledge of “Tulsi and its medicinal effects” in their labs, only to be overwhelmed by their scientific findings. Ocimum tenuiflorum or commonly known as Tulsi has been mentioned in ancient Indian scriptures and has found wide usage in the Indian traditional system of medicine, Ayurveda. Known for producing many aromatic compounds, Tulsi gained an informal name as the “Queen of Herbs”. It is considered sacred in Hindu households and mostly used for spiritual and religious purposes in India.

Tulsi grows extensively in tropical climate, hence found in most parts of Asia, Africa, Central and South America. It consists of a wide range of bioactive compounds which are known for their anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-pyretic and anti-cancer properties. These compounds or plant metabolites are very poorly understood because of absolute lack of genomic information. Prof. Ramanathan Sowdhamini and team have produced the first draft genome of O. tenuiflorum Krishna subtype which is a huge leap in understanding and identifying the genes responsible for production of metabolites with medicinal properties. Focussing on the important metabolite genes, the team used five different types of Tulsi, (Ocimum tenuflorium subtype Rama, O. tenuflorium subtype Krishna, O. gratissimum, O. saccharicum and O. kilmund) to collect the genomic data and compare it with the nearest genetically related species. “The genome sequencing projects involved generation of huge quantity of data. The genes were identified from this enormous amount of data using complex prediction models and then they were numbered for easy identification. This assembled genome and the set of genes served as a start point for all downstream analysis”, said Adwait Joshi, one of the team members.

Like every other plant, Tulsi also produces specialized metabolites as a part of its defence mechanism. Linalool, Linalyl, Geraniol, Camphor, Thymol, Safrol, Apigenin, Citral, Eugenol, Taxol and Urosolic acid are few examples among the important secondary metabolites of Ocimum species. “Apigenin, Taxol and Urosolic acid are implicated in anti-cancer properties of the plant, Citral for its anti-septic nature and Eugenol for its anti-infective properties and so on”, says Prof. Sowdhamini. Few metabolites have been used in the perfume and cosmetic industries. While others have been exploited in curing human ailments like malaria, bronchitis, diarrhea and dysentery, etc. The metabolic pathway concerning the synthesis of Ursolic acid was investigated as a case study. Studying mature roots, leaves, flowers, seeds and other parts of the plant, the team found that the precursors of these metabolites are synthesized in young tissues and retain their specific medicinal properties in their mature counterparts.

Owing to the 3000 years of cultivation of Krishna Tulsi and extensive descriptions in the Vedas and Puranas, it is assumed to be of Indian origin. The findings of the experiments at CCAMP, NCBS, reinstate the household knowledge passed on by grandma, even when prodded by the modern scientific techniques. Prof. Sowdhamini said, “This is the first report of draft genome sequencing of a plant species from NCBS and we hope to do more”. Convinced of the huge array of genes and their respective downstream compounds yet to be unraveled in further research, the team looks forward to working in collaboration with an independent parallel initiative by CAMP, Lucknow, to provide the next version of the draft of Tulsi genome.

Conference report


16-18 November 2015

Faculty Hall, Indian Institute of Science Bangalore

What is dementia and how is it caused?

The underlying genetic bases of Alzheimer’s disease

Can we prevent the onset of dementia in Alzheimer’s disease?

These are some of the key areas that will come under the lens at the international conference: “Neurodegenerative Diseases: Pathogenesis to Therapy” conference, which will be held between 16-18 November 2015 at the Faculty Hall, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The conference is being organised by the Centre for Brain Research, an autonomous centre at the IISc. Scientists from various national and international research institutes and Universities will present their studies and findings during these three days and explore novel therapies. The main focus will be on neurological disorders related to age: their causes, mitigation and possible treatments.

Dementia refers to a range of symptoms that includes the loss of memory and decline in mental abilities like thinking, problem solving and language, caused due to brain degeneration. It is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and has been noted in people in their mid-60s. Research suggests the onset of dementia could be delayed, and that there are treatments for the symptoms of the disease which can slow down the progression of dementia.

The degeneration of the brain as we age is primarily a medical problem. But, with the increasing ageing population across the world, it has now become an economic issue also. “Age related neurological  disorders have been a cause for public health concern in developed countries. In the near future, India and China will see the largest increase in new cases of dementia. So, there is growing global concern about ageing disorders, in general and dementia, in particular”, said Professor Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath, chairman, Centre for Neuroscience, IISc, Bangalore.

The first day of the conference will focus on Alzheimer disease- its causes, symptoms and possible therapy of its primary symptom – dementia. The day’s talks include

  • John C. Morris, a lifetime achievement award winner from the Alzheimer’s Association for his contributions to this field, currently at the Washington University School of Medicine will speak about delaying the onset of dementia in AD and the ongoing trials.
  • Yves Joanette, University of Montreal, Canada, will talk about the challenge that dementia poses and the collaborative efforts at a global level to understand the origins of the diseases causing dementia.
  • Arthur Toga, founder of the Laboratory of NeuroImaging, University of California, Los Angeles, describing his work on making data from various laboratories accessible, and using a wide range of instruments and different protocols, to discover meaningful patterns.
  • Sudha Seshadri from Boston University School of Medicine, will present the genetic aspect of Alzheimer disease research.
  • The possible links between Dementia and type 2 diabetes will be discussed by Prof. Velandai Srikanth, a geriatrician at the Monash medical centre, Monash University, Melbourne.
  • Suvarna Alladi, Nizam Institute of medical Sciences, Hyderabad, will address the possible role of multilingualism in the delay of onset of dementia.
  • Mary Ganguli, University of Pittsburgh will speak about the relationship of brain’s function and dysfunction to the overall population as opposed to an individual.
  • Murali Krishna will present his research from populations of Mysore and how nutrition and growth in early life and socio-economic adversities affect cognition in individuals.

The second day will be a range of topics on factors and mitigation of neurodegeneration due to age, how lifestyle factors and other diseases can influence brain damage owing to AD, Parkinson, Lafora disease or Amylotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Dr. Ana Ines Ansaldo from University of Montreal, Canada, will talk about mitigation of neurodegenerative symptoms. Dr. Rosalyn Moran from Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, will present a mathematical predictive model to examine the impact of life experiences in aging neurobiology. Dr. Stanley Fahn, Columbia University Medical centre, followed by Dr. Uday Muthane’s, (Parkinson aging and research foundation, Bangalore) talk on Parkinson’s disease and mitigation probabilities.


The last day will be a presentation by Dr. Sangram Sisodia from University of Chicago, on genetic mutations causing Alzheimer followed by Dr. M. M. Panicker’s (NCBS, Bangalore) research on stem cell modelling on late onset of the disease. Prof. Colin Masters, University of Melbourne, will speak on possible gene therapy in Alzheimers before the concluding session of the conference – a panel discussion on dementia.



Day 1

16-18 November 2015

Faculty Hall, Indian Institute of Science Bangalore

“By 2050, more than 50% of the ageing population will be in South East Asia”, said Prof Yves Joanette, during the first session of the International Conference ‘Neurodegenerative Diseases: Pathogenesis to Therapy’ at the IISc today. “Globally, about 30% of the population would be 60+ very soon”, she added.

This immediately implies an increase in incidence of dementia. With an increasing aged population, dementia is becoming more of an economic problem, rather than a medical problem.

“India will contribute to dementia research both within the country and globally”, said Joanette, pointing out to the Rs 225 crore grant provided by Kris Gopalakrishnan to IISc. During his speech at the inauguration, Gopalakrishnan said “Understanding the human brain would help us improve the condition of people whose lives are affected by these diseases. There is a huge avenue for computational research, where India can really provide inputs”.

Dementia refers to a range of symptoms that includes the loss of memory and decline in mental abilities like thinking, problem solving and language, caused due to brain degeneration. It is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and has been noted in people in their mid-60s. Dementia is also caused by other factors, said Joanette. “We need to examine the cascade of events that end up in dementia”, she said.

“We also need to find ways to deal with dementia-affected population – their quality of life and strengthening services for caregivers and families”, she added.

AD, first diagnosed in 1906, is a disease where neurons in the brain die and the brain wastes away as a result. Dr John Morris from the Washington University in St Louis called it a ‘global epidemic’. “The first stage of the disease is generally silent, and cannot be detected by current diagnosis methods”, he said. “The second phase is characterised by dementia and cognitive impairment. We currently have no therapy for the underlying cause of AD – the neuronal degeneration”, he added.

“We need population level studies to complement clinical ones”, said Dr Mary Ganguli from the University of Pittsburgh. Human beings are hetergenous subjects, not uniform like lab rats, she said. “It is crucial to examine the external factors from the population around a patient. Such data is lacking from countries like India”.

Ganguli has developed an India-specific questionnaire which can be used for population level dementia surveys. Neuro-physiological tests, the usual norm for diagnosis, were not feasible with illiterate people. She found an incidence of 1.17% in a population in Haryana, as opposed to 8% at a locality in the US. “The study needs to be expanded to other socio-economic classes, and across the country”, she said.

Dr Sudha Seshadri, an alumnus of CMC Vellore who is now at Boston University, has been “looking at new genes or new targets for understanding the biology of AD, which would help discover new drugs and therapeutic approaches”. She suggested genome-wide surveys to look at possible targets for gene therapy.

Murali Krishna, an Early Career Wellcome Trust-DBT fellow from Mysore, examined the hypothesis that a smaller birth weight, because of a smaller head, increases chances of dementia when the person ages. Examining more than 1000 people born in a particular hospital in Mysore, he was able to establish that low birth weight, combined with low socio-economic status, increased the prevalence of dementia and cardiometabolic disorders.

Suvarna Alladi of Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences, Hyderabad, said that India was ideal to test the hypothesis of whether speaking more than one language maintains cognitive functions better. “Switching between languages maintains higher cognitive functioning”, she said. “Irrespective of literacy, being multi-lingual helps to delay dementia. Illiterate but skilled workers like artisans, potters and weavers had heightened cognitive abilities and hence late onset of dementia”, she added.



Prof. John C. Morris http://neuro.wustl.edu/aboutus/facultybiographies/morris

Mary Ganguli http://www.wpic.pitt.edu/research/dementia_epidemiology/

Murali Krishna http://wellcomedbt.org/fellowsprofile/dr-murali-krishna-125



Day 2

17 November 2015

Faculty Hall, Indian Institute of Science Bangalore

“Sitting is the new smoking. Eight hours of sitting does similar damage to what smoking does to you”, said Manjari Tripathi, a Professor of Neurology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. Life expectancy in India has shot up in the last 50 years, thanks to better medical facilities.

“Soon, India will have the third largest ageing population following the US and China”, she said. “One in six women beyond 55 are likely to develop dementia. However, the factors leading to dementia are still an enigma”. Tripathi has initiated a study that will monitor the health of a rural and an urban group, over the next couple of decades.

Dementia refers to a range of symptoms that includes the loss of memory and decline in mental abilities like thinking, problem solving and language, caused due to brain degeneration. It is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and has been noted in people in their mid-60s.

Can we remodel the brain after it has aged? At a very interesting talk during the second day of the International Conference ‘Neurodegenerative Diseases: Pathogenesis to Therapy’ at the IISc today, Ana Ines Ansaldo from the University of Montreal discussed brain remodelling as a therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease.

The brain is capable of some degree of plasticity, or remodelling. With age, this ability typically decreases. Ansaldo has found that engaging the brain in novel, complex tasks provides it with an ‘enriched environment’ that delays onset of brain degeneration. Therapy induced plasticity can potentially prove beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients, her research has shown.

Stanley Fahn from Columbia University spoke on the symptoms and pathogenesis of Parkinson’s Disease. The disease is caused due to degeneration of neurons, and it progresses slowly in most people; the person’s brain slowly stops producing dopamine, a neurotransmitter – a chemical used to communicate between neurons. Hirsch Etienne from the Brain and spine institute, Paris, spoke on the unmet therapeutic needs in Parkinson’s disease. K P Mohan Kumar spoke on the specific protein Prohibitin and its relation with Parkinson’s.

Jean-Pierre Julien from Laval university, Canada, spoke on possible therapies for the disease Amylotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The disease affects motor neurons, the brain and spinal cord, causing muscle weakness and paralysis.

Rosalyn Moran from Virginia Tech spoke about her research on the mathematical modelling of the brain, which can help predict long term ageing patterns and propensity for disease.



Ana Ines Ansaldo: http://www.laboansaldo.com/ana_ines_e.html

Manjari Tripathi: http://www.aiims.edu/aiims/departments/spcenter/nsc/neurology/manjari-t.htm

K P Mohan Kumar: http://iicb.res.in/divisionwiselistofscientists/cbp/kpmohankumar.html



Day 3

18 November 2015

Faculty Hall, Indian Institute of Science Bangalore

The last day of the International Conference ‘Neurodegenerative Diseases: Pathogenesis to Therapy’ was packed with discussions regarding the latest research about Alzheimer’s and dementia, especially detection and therapy.

A panel discussion in the afternoon discussed the Dementia Network – designed to improve the system of care for individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Stanley Fahn from Columbia University stressed the need for collaboration among institutes, and among different streams – doctors, nurses, academicians, caregivers and families of affected people. Such a network can be used to establish common protocols and assessments for diagnosis, treatment and data collection.

Sangram Sisodia from the University of Chicago stressed the need for scientists to network together and use technology to the best possible extent. Yves Joanette from the University of Montreal stressed on the need for Big Data; and the need for large international collaborations to generate Big Data. Narahari from IISc stressed further on the need for complex algorithms that can handle the kind of data needed to understand neurological diseases. He spoke of the need to complement crowdsourced data with expert data, to get a good picture.

Upinder Bhalla from the National Centre for Biological Sciences said that the Centre for Brain Research established at IISc was an excellent starting point to setup the Dementia Network in India. Mathew Varghese from NIMHANS also stressed the same – when setting up the network was discussed 6 years ago, he said “research into Alzheimer’s Disease was in its infancy”.

In other talks, Sisodia from the University of Chicago has been working on the function of presenilin, a protein that is involved in the generation of beta-amyloid, which accumulates to form the ‘amyloid plaques’ typical of Alzheimer’s Disease. Deepak Nair from the Centre for Neurosciences, IISc has been studying the Amyloid Precursor Protein, which generates the beta-amyloid that leads to plaques. Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath studies how the plaques accumulate.

Balaji Jayaprakash from the Centre for Neurosciences, IISc has been studying mice affected by Alzheimer’s Disease to test memory and how it disappears with time.

Using laboratory strains of patient cells, Mitradas Panicker from the National Centre for Biological Sciences has developed a ‘gene map’ of the neural cells, which can help in earmarking the genes responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease.


Prof. John Morris is the Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology, Professor of Pathology and Immunology, Professor of Physical Therapy, and Professor of Occupational Therapy at Washington University. He also is the Director and Principal Investigator of the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. He studies various aspects of Alzheimer disease.

Based on your experience in dementia research in the western world, what would be you suggestions to Indian researchers or researchers focussing on dementia in India?

In the US, the only area where we have done really well in approaching the issue of dementing illness is a combination of clinical research in following patients and healthy control people to see how the disease progresses in them in conjunction with basic science. So the two work together and not separately. In IISc, there is tremendous basic research but no or very little clinical research. In the US, we have exclusive Alzheimer’s research centres that are funded by national institute of health which started in 1984 and since then they have brought clinical and basic science people together. It’s not a tradition in India but I would say that is the only way to advance research in dementia here.

Do you think that lifestyle changes in Indians could help curb the rising number of dementia affected people here?

No one knows the answer yet but it might be possible. That makes India a wonderful place for this kind of research because of the diverse populations, cultures and lifestyles – diet, aging, obesity etc. factors can be checked for their links to dementia. India makes for a perfect laboratory to check for these questions and examine them in clinical cohorts. There will be a lot of challenges to that. Also the population above 65 is much lower in India as opposed to the US or Japan but the existing number is huge and it is only going to get bigger. Hence there is an imperative to do this research.

Available drugs have failed to stop or delay dementia. The ongoing genetic research in that direction is also in its nascent stages. Is there any other alternative that can help deal with dementia in the present situation?

Two paths that we haven’t tried –

  1. Administering past failed drugs during the earlier course of the disease, right when the symptoms show up. The research has just begun in that aspect.
  2. Using combination of drugs- each drug attacking a different mechanism leading to dementia. This is yet to start.