In solidarity with biologist Sydney Brenner, a 2002 Nobel prize awardee in Physiology or Medicine, who believes that the experimental animal of the 21st century is man, researchers the world over, have been developing initiatives to bring the concept of translational medicine - 'from bench to bedside' - closer to reality.
Along these lines, the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (InStem), the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and the University of Edinburgh have recently set up a collaborative Center for Brain Development and Repair, to foster clinical research on brain disorders. The center will be based at inStem and directed by Sumantra Chattarji, with Siddharthan Chandran and Peter Kind from the University of Edinburgh as its Associate Directors. With an initial thrust on Autism Spectrum Disorders/Intellectual Disabilities (ASD/ID), the center will later expand its focus to develop novel therapeutic interventions for other degenerative brain disorders, such as dementia.
Sir John Savill, Vice-principal and Head of the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and Chief Executive of the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) was recently at NCBS, in connection with the collaboration and also to deliver a talk titled '100 years of the MRC'.
Anyone who is not already convinced that the world of ants conceals many amazing surprises would quickly become a convert by just listening to Bert Hölldobler, or by watching the award winning documentary, Ants - Nature's Secret Power, which is based largely on Hölldobler's work. Hölldobler's fascination with ants dates back to his boyhood, and he has spent most of the six decades since unearthing the secrets of their biology. In a conversation over breakfast during his recent visit to NCBS, this awe-inspiring myrmecologist shared his excitement about science and research... and of course, ants!
Padma Shri Prof. VijayRaghavan's appointment as the new Secretary of Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has met with a unanimous cheer from the life-sciences community. With his rare combination of scientific reputation, cross-disciplinary background, track record in building excellent institutions and the "can-do" spirit, Vijay has is bound to keep the momentum initiated by his predecessor Dr MK Bhan going full throttle. Despite his stature, setting directions for the future no doubt remains an immense challenge given the rapidly changing life-sciences scene in India.
As part of the Institut Curie and NCBS scientific meetings this week, NCBS is hosting a series of events to celebrate Marie Curie's life and ongoing legacy. A traveling exhibition Marie Curie 1867 - 1934, will be on display from August 7 - 25, 2012. This exhibition marks the International Year of Chemistry (2011) and also commemorates the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie's Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1911). The 12 panels of this exhibition trace the remarkable scientific trajectory of Marie Curie.
Upinder Singh, professor at the University of Delhi's Department of History, was at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) on 15th February 2012 to talk about her ongoing studies of violence in ancient India. In a second talk on 16th February, hosted at Bangalore's National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), she focused on how ancient relics, inscriptions and sculptures deepen our understanding of religion in ancient India. Both talks were hosted by NCBS as part of the Science and Society program.
In a chaotic world spinning towards an 'interesting' future, many are self-absorbed in deciphering ways to ensure that our personal endeavors and ambitions meet with success. Intellectual depth and scholarship can give way to Lemming-like dynamics where the herd decides the direction for our personal and institutional trajectories. Intellectual stampedes are certainly not required behaviour, yet few refuse to participate and fewer still strike new paths. There are a daring few who define new intellectual quests, and whose courage and leadership create a culture, the nurturing of which makes us all feel special. Today, we celebrate Obaid Siddiqi whose foresight, determination and quiet courage has transformed research in molecular biology in India at least twice and whose scientific successes span many fields of biology. While establishing institutional excellence and instilling an iconoclastic culture of independence and freethinking, these pioneering efforts have led to wide-appreciation, both of the beauty and value of Obaid's science and of his leadership in institution-building, as models to emulate.
The recent judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the case of Brüstle vs Greenpeace has examined the patentability of human embryonic stem cells. At the heart of the issue is the question whether an invention that destroys a human embryo can be granted a patent.
I was honoured to be among the people who had dinner with Dr. Collins after his talk at NCBS. The students of NCBS, ever-voracious consumers of knowledge kept him busy with their questions till faculty came to his rescue. I managed to steal a few minutes from them for the interview.
"It's a rare paper that gives you a chill of excitement. This was one of them." Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, USA talks about reading the first report of "induced pluripotent stem cells", a technique that has the potential to create stem cells from the patient's own cells
Like a new captain for a sinking Titanic, Francis Collins came aboard NIH at a time when the world was drowning in the late-2000's recession. It was a challenging time for US biomedical research, and leading the National Institutes of Health is a tough job. "The Director deals with the Directors of each NIH Institute: Powerful scientists, strong-willed with their own strengths, priorities, biases and institutional limitations", explains NCBS's VijayRaghavan, "To conduct an orchestra of cats is never easy."
But Collins had the resume to make one believe he could turn things around. A physical chemist turned biologist, Collins has pioneered the development of some of the most significant techniques of molecular biology, such as chromosome jumping and positional cloning. Using these methods, Collins and his team helped to identify the key genes involved in cystic fibrosis. Later, he went on to shepherd the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, and led the public side of the effort that first described the human genome in 2000.
Visiting India for the first time, Collins' talk at NCBS emphasised how NIH wants to build relationships with the growing Indian scientific community. More specifically, he also stressed that NIH wants to actively collaborate with the stem cell research centre at NCBS, and with institutes in other parts of the country. With over 250 active grants from the NIH, India is one of the countries most frequently funded. On Monday, Collins is heading to Delhi to sign a 'letter of intent' with M.K. Bhan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology.
István Hargittai is a professor of chemistry at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. Member of several academic councils across Europe, he is also a noted science historian who has interviewed over a hundred Nobel laureates and written several well-received books. Hargittai visited NCBS during September 2011 for the first set of talks in the Science and Society series. He talked about 'Scientific, moral and ethical battles in the making of a nuclear world' which emanated from his recent book The Martians of Science. The book tells the story of five Hungarian scientists who escaped to the United States of America during World War II. Their immense contribution to science influenced the creation of the atomic and hydrogen bombs. Hargittai's talk at NCBS focused on Edward Teller, the father of the American hydrogen bomb, and the moral and ethical questions that arose when the first atomic bomb was made.
Hargittai is a man with a bag full of stories - and incredibly interesting ones, which he is always ready to share. I had the honor of interviewing him, and here are some of those tales.