Indian Life Sciences

In its latest issue, the science journal Nature has produced a special Outlook section on the current state of science, and in particular life science research in India. The articles are uniformly well-written and objective with very little of the usual condescension shown by Western scientific establishments towards Indian science. Together, they give us an insight into how research is done in India and the many problems plaguing it. From a scientific culture which frowns upon independent thinking and instead rewards conformity and obedience to the lack of accountability and appropriate funding, from the lack of proper regulatory frameworks for critical areas like stem cell research and human clinical trials to the heart-warming stories of a handful of research institutes leading the way in life sciences the issues are many.

To name a few; India is still way behind in research spending as a percentage of GDP even when compared to other developing countries like China, Brazil or South Korea. Ayurveda is another crucial area where India is sitting on a goldmine of traditional medicine that could be a potential source for new drugs if only the traditional knowledge is subjected to rigorous scientific analysis. The education system also needs to be upgraded and revamped. The present emphasis on only the theoretical aspects of science should be changed and equal emphasis needs to be placed on the experimental aspects, which are what makes a good scientist in the long run. This is one crucial area, I feel, where science graduates from India in general are behind their Western counterparts. I am a product of the Indian scientific education and have experienced first-hand the deficiencies of the existing system. Most of the crucial experiments in Genetics and Molecular Biology were either demonstrated to us or worse only described. We rarely had hands-on experience over techniques which would be considered standard laboratory work elsewhere and this was in a central university where the standard is much much higher compared to state universities!

But do not despair yet. Things are slowly but surely moving ahead in the right direction. The success of independent research institutes like National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, National Centre for Cell Science, Pune and few others is reason enough to hope for more change. Scientists from these institutes regularly publish in high-impact, peer-reviewed international journals and their numbers are steadily increasing from year to year. Start-up biotech companies like Biocon, Avesthagen and established pharma companies like Dr. Reddy’s, and Ranbaxy are also growing in strength and stature. All that India needs now is good support and direction from the government in terms of funding, less bureaucratic hurdles, and last but not the least, for a critical mass of life-scientists to develop to give research the right push. This could usher in the next revolution, for after IT it might just be the turn of BT!

3 responses to “Indian Life Sciences”

  1. finnegan says:

    I was tempted to put my footprints here, since I detected virgin snow.

    Do not despair is right! Think about the state of Indian IT today compared to just 10 years ago. Many in the west were sneering (as they are wont to do) about India’s potential.

  2. Anil says:

    true..very true…let us hope that India repeats the same story with biotechnology and life science research..

  3. tgfi says:

    hey..thanks for the link, i did read this when it came out last year and was very enthused.

    yeah- i don’t get it with the publish or perish either. it’s a vicious cycle, really. and lot of hard work doesn’t get appreciation it deserves, because the data isn’t as sexy or is negative data.

    i’m on an overall negative spree as far as research goes these days.

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