An Underperforming India In Translational Research

Biomedical engineering in India

Nina Marie Tandon is an American biomedical engineer who co-founded Epibone, a company which grows personalized bones from your stem cells. It is interesting to point out that the revolutionary company neither happened in a day nor was it born in the minds of another software engineer sitting in his cubicle frustrated taking errands from his boss. Epibone is a spin-off from her lab at MIT, while she was working towards her Ph.D.

Spin Off is a concept foreign to most Indian universities. While the Indian governments in the last decade have focused solely on startups, the Indian media, academicians and engineers have also been shy to speak about spin offs and translational research.

The Grim State Of Medical Research In India

Oh! India gifted the world zero. Let me tell you that it was two millenniums back. Here are few statistics that may be an eye-opener:

  • 60% of Indian Medical Institutes don’t have a scientific publication in a decade. This study included 579 institutes recognized by Medical Council Of India (MCI) and National Board of Examinations (NBE). (Source: TOI)
  • The annual research output of Massachusetts General Hospital is 4600 and all AIIMS collectively publish less than one-third of it.
  • India’s R&D budget is stagnant at 0.7% of GDP for the last 20 years. (Source: Economic Times)

Publications v/s Patents: A Contrasting Figure

In the last semester, before I graduated from IIT (BHU) Varanasi, I was motivated enough to get my research works patented. My guide had no clue about getting an Indian patent, nor was any of their research scholars. I decided to seek help from another professor in the Mechanical Engineering department who had quite a few patents filed. In the first and the ultimate interaction with him, I realized that none of his patents have been accepted yet. He would simply file a patent and get the Patent number. He said that getting your work patented is hectic and required the help of lawyers.

In order to move further, I decided to visit a lawyer. Internet, as usual, was more resourceful than quite a few knowledgeable professors in the Institute. I found out that there is an Intellectual Property Cell in every IIT and CFTI. I decided to pay a visit. What I heard from him left me in dismay. He said that in the last 2 years, only 5 guys had paid a visit to the cell and only 2 patents have got approved in the last 5 years.

Disappointed, I explored the world scenario.

According to a New York Times report, 800,000 medical research papers were published in 2008 while only 21 patents were approved by the Food And Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA.

Why Does It Matter?

Time and again we have come across news of the drugs being unaffordable to the common people. Patents of foreign Pharmaceutical companies on drugs being sold in India is a major reason for their high price. Due to lack of any Indian patents being filed or significant Indian drugs or medical devices being developed, India relies on imports of medical devices.

It would be surprising to know that despite the price cap, India still imports more than 60% of its stents from abroad, with Ireland being the largest exporter.

The Indian Research Mindset

Indian professors, Ph.D. students and research scholars in academia, in particular, focus on getting their works published in journals. It is impervious to quote that 2 journal publications are required till the time present your Ph.D. thesis. Under such circumstances, researchers in elite universities like NITs and several Centrally Funded Institutes (CFTIs) often pay journals to get their articles published.

Hardship And Non-Cooperation From Medical Colleges

I was working on a project in collaboration with IMS BHU, one of the top 10 medical institutes of the country according to MCI reports. It took me several visits to the Cath Lab to collect an ample number of angiographs for my research project. The data collection took me over 6 months. In my summer internship in France at a CNRS Lab, getting the medical data took me a few seconds. It was the responsibility of the guide to collaborate with hospitals and get the required data sets. Spending 6 months on a useless thing is a big blunder to continuing with research. ‘

IIT (BHU) Varanasi is one of the few institutes in the country which has a full-fledged undergraduate department as Biomedical Engineering because of the presence of IMS (BHU) in the campus. However, there are less than 10 projects in the department that are running in collaboration with them.

The Populist Government Policies

All the governments ever since I have come to senses and known the society have flooded the socio-economic landscape with populist policies. While it has been proven time and again that populist policies don’t turn out to effective in the long run, especially in fields that require people with technical acumen to make the decisions or policies.

Lack Of Role Models

Lack of role models is a significant factor that fails to motivate the medical or engineering students to get their hands dirty to solve a healthcare problem.

 

 

The Path Forward

 

 

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