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Focus on cheap precision drugs

By T. Nandakumar



Ajith Kumar and Arun Kumar

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, MARCH 6 . The development of cheap precision drugs and vaccines and targeted drug delivery systems for genetic diseases will be a major thrust area for the Centre for Nanotechnology Research proposed to be set up in Thiruvananthapuram under the Government's action plan for development.

V.S. Ajith Kumar and his brother V.S. Arun Kumar, who have been appointed project advisers and promoters, hope to develop the State capital into a hub of nanotechnology research.

Talking to The Hindu , they said the project would be highlighted at a global meet on advanced nanotechnology being organised by the Euro Nanotechnology Forum at Edinburgh later this year.

Initial investment

"We are looking at an initial investment of Rs.100 crores from national and international research organisations. A major component of the project will be the networking of major research institutions such as the Indian Space Research Organisation, Sri Chithira Tirunal Institute of Medical Science and Technology and the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology," they said.

The proposed centre will have a research and development division and a production unit.

The two young doctors who hail from the State capital stormed their way into the rarefied field of nanotechnology research in 1999 following a breakthrough in the development of a technique to prepare the `genetic horoscope' of a newborn using state-of-the-art Nanogeneseq chip technology.

The unique technique that maps the DNA sequence of an individual enables the medical community to predict a wide range of diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer, and coronary artery disease that an individual is likely to be afflicted with.

It also helps to develop precision drugs to fight these diseases.

"The system uses DNA samples from blood samples of a newborn to analyse its physical attributes and genetic predispositions. It is twice as fast as conventional DNA sequencing methods and less power consuming," says Dr. Ajith Kumar.

"Nanotechnology is essentially the creation of functional materials, devices and systems through the control of matter at microscopic size — one billionth of a metre. At this level, matter exhibits novel physical, chemical, biological, electrical and mechanical properties that can be exploited for various purposes. The atomic precision of nanotechnology gives it an edge over biotechnology, especially in the medical field," Dr. Ajith Kumar explains.

Unlike DNA vaccines that teach the body to recognise proteins responsible for dreaded diseases like HIV/AIDS, nano vaccines generate tailor-made cells that identify and destroy the hostile virus without giving it time to mutate.

While current nanomedicine focusses on targeted nanoparticles and nanostructures, emerging areas of research are directed towards molecular engineering to develop medical nanorobots capable of reversing cardiac diseases, microbial infections, cancer and genetic diseases.

Patents

The doctor duo has secured patents for the Nanogenseq chip and the three-dimensional Helical Nano Laser used in conjunction to scan the protein sequences and establish the horoscope.

They have also been credited with the development of a Spatially Parallel Light Augmented Sensing Hologram (Splashtech) capable of detecting objects embedded in dense material and a Nanocircadian Pacemaker that generates small pulses to correct arterial fibrillation in cardiac patients.

A more mundane achievement is the development of an integrated Kehlescope to speed up ENT diagnosis.

The kit combines the functions of a tongue depressor, a moving lens and a focussed light powered by a battery pack to observe the inside of a patient's throat.

Dr. Ajith Kumar said the proposed centre would also focus on diagnostic devices, targeted therapy for cancer patients, advanced materials and robotics.

"The Government will be a major stakeholder in the joint venture project. It will also provide land and support infrastructure. The centre will provide job opportunities for 200 people in the first stage. We have opened discussions with potential investors," he said.

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