Calcium dose: ‘High or low, it’s equally effective’

Jan 16,2024

By Iffath Fathima / Updated: Jan 16, 2024, 06:00 IST

Available on Bangalore Mirror: 

A recent study conducted in Bengaluru and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, found that low-dose calcium supplementation was equally effective as high-dose supplementation in preventing preeclampsia. The study titled ‘Two Randomised Trials of Low-Dose Calcium Supplementation in Pregnancy’ was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The study was conducted on 11,000 nulliparous pregnant women by a team of researchers led by Dr Pratibha Dwarkanath and Prof Anura Kurpad from St John’s Research Institute and St John’s Medical College. The Indian study was part of two independent trials on a similar number of women, and the other trial was conducted in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. According to the research study, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, which include preeclampsia, complicate 2–8% of pregnancies and are estimated to cause 45,000 maternal deaths annually. These disorders are also associated with an increased risk of preterm birth, the leading cause of death among children worldwide.

Calcium supplementation in pregnancy has been recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since 2011 to reduce the risk of preeclampsia in populations with low dietary calcium intake. The recommended dose is 1,500–2,000 mg of calcium daily, divided into three doses for pregnant people in populations with low dietary intake, in order to reduce the risk of preeclampsia. The complexity of the dosing scheme has, however, led to implementation barriers. In the study, two independent randomised trials of calcium supplementation in India and Tanzania were conducted to assess the noninferiority of a 500-mg daily dose to a 1,500-mg daily dose of calcium supplementation. The pregnant women were recruited at <20 weeks of gestation and were followed up until delivery.

Dr Pratibha Dwarkanath, Associate Professor, Division of Nutrition, St John’s Research Institute, said, “The study found that low-dose calcium supplementation was equally effective as high-dose supplementation in preventing preeclampsia. In the India trial, the incidence of preeclampsia was 3.0% for women taking 500 mg/day and 3.6% for those taking 1,500 mg/day. In Tanzania, the incidence was 3.0% and 2.7%, respectively.”

Regarding preterm birth, results varied between trials. In India, the incidence was 11.4% for low-dose and 12.8% for high-dose, indicating similar effects. In Tanzania, the rates were 10.4% and 9.7%, respectively. However, when pooling data from both trials, the study found no significant difference in the effect of low-dose versus high-dose supplementation on preterm birth, she added.

Trials were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in collaboration with the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.


Study finds BCG revaccination in adults enhanced pro-inflammatory markers of trained immunity along with anti-inflammatory pathways.

Oct 31,2023


A study by immunologists from St John’s Research Institute (SJRI) has found that Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) revaccination in adults enhanced pro-inflammatory markers of trained immunity along with anti-inflammatory pathways. The study was published in iScience, a peer-reviewed scientific journal last month.

Publication: This study characterized mechanisms of BCG revaccination-induced trained immunity (TI) in India. Data highlights a balanced immune response comprising pro- and anti-inflammatory mediators is a feature of BCG revaccination-induced immunity. Ahmed, A., Tripathi, H., van Meijgaarden, K.E., Kumar, N.C., Adiga, V., Rakshit, S., Parthiban, C., Eveline J, S., D'Souza, G., Dias, M., Ottenhoff, T.H.M., Netea, M.G., Joosten, S.A., Vyakamam, A., BCG revaccination in adults enhances pro-inflammatory markers of trained immunity along with anti-inflammatory pathways,
ISCIENCE (2023), doi : 


Age of junk food: Children grapple with obesity

Oct 15,2023

Aggressive, unregulated marketing of ultra processed foods and unwalkable cities have resulted in an increase in obesity among children.
Deccan Herald:  
Last Updated 15 October 2023, 01:39 IST

Bengaluru: A little after the pandemic, Shrikanth K, a gym instructor in Bengaluru, was alarmed to see an increasing number of children, even as young as seven or eight years of age, enrolling at gyms to manage obesity. The pandemic-induced lockdowns had forced children to lead sedentary lives. 

“In a city like Bengaluru parents are worried about kids’ safety while playing outdoors. They believe that the gym is a regulated and safe space,” Shrikanth says. His gym, situated in R R Nagar, designs specialised programmes for children. 

This dangerous development is only an indication of a national increase in obesity among children. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), the number of children who are overweight has increased from 2.1 per cent in 2015-16 to 3.4 percent between 2019 and 2021. As many as 4.2 percent of children in urban areas and 3.2 percent in rural areas are identified to be overweight, as well. 

Among the 32 lakh children enrolled in anganwadis in Karnataka, close to two lakh children below six years are overweight and obese as of September 2023, according to data from the Ministry of Women and Child Development. This is on par with the national figures of 6% of children (about 43 lakh) in anganwadis being obese. 

The ubiquity of junk food is one major reason behind such an increase, according to Dr Arun Gupta, pediatrician and convenor of National Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi). “Ultra-processed food, which is not food per se but products derived from food, are becoming more available and are being aggressively advertised. The first harm from it is weight gain with an eventual risk of diabetes,” he explains.

Ultra-processed food has become so common that parents are quick to substitute these foods for a meal as it is easy to access and inexpensive. For instance, Pushpa (name changed), an anganwadi teacher from Ballari, explains, “Many daily wage workers have no time to cook for their children in the morning. In several cases, parents feed their children biscuits and tea before sending them to anganwadis, even though teachers keep explaining the ill effects of junk food to both parents and children.”  Earlier this year, NAPi, in coordination with Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), released a report on the realities of the consumption of ultra-processed food in India.

The report provides a glimpse into marketing of junk food and its impact on child health. “Aggressive marketing promotes products high in fat, sugar and salt foods or ultra-processed foods. This contributes to poor dietary behaviour in children continues later in life. Increasing junk food consumption makes our diets unhealthy, thus contributing to diet-related non-communicable diseases,” the report states.

For this report, NAPi conducted a qualitative study of 43 pre-packaged food products and their advertisements across various media platforms. “It was found that total sugars were high in 31 products, total fat was high in 29 products, and sodium was high in 19 products. Additionally, eight products exceeded the thresholds for all three nutrients of concern,” the report says. 

In July this year, the World Health Organisation released a set of recommendations to protect children from harmful marketing of such products. Among its recommendations, the organisation has urged countries to implement policies to restrict marketing of foods high in saturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids, free sugars and salt. It also recommended that the government put in place a nutrient profile model to classify foods that should be restricted from marketing.

Causes and consequences:  While persuasive advertising is one aspect, childhood obesity can be caused due to a number of reasons. Public health expert Dr Sylvia Karpagam explains that the reasons behind obesity could start from infancy. Formula foods and baby drinks can cause weight gain and these have not been adequately studied or regulated. “Formula foods are pushed even by paediatricians claiming that mothers do not have ‘enough’ breast milk.

It is known that children fed on formula tend to be larger than breastfed babies. It is important to ascertain what percent of children are being given formula foods as also ultra-processed foods with high levels of transfats, salts, sugars and additives,” she observes.   Later, hectic school schedules leave children with little energy for physical activity after school, points out Shrikanth. Even in gyms, “ensuring children’s regularity is a challenge as they are sapped of all energy by the time they reach the gym,” he says.  That, coupled with parents’ concerns about children’s safety, further pushes them to a sedentary life inside their homes, he adds. 
An unpublished study on elite schools in Bengaluru by Dr Asha Benakappa, paediatrician and former director of Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, as part of which 1,577 children were screened for cardiometabolic risks, finds that 17.6 percent of the children were obese while 28.9 per cent were overweight. Obese children are likely to develop insulin resistance.  “It takes eleven years to build insulin resistance and another equal number of years for diseases like hypertension, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes and cancer to develop,” she says.  Many schools have identified obesity as a growing concern and are undertaking efforts to ensure that healthy foods are available in their canteens.
“The menu is overhauled from time to time after consultation with students of all age groups. Snacks sold as breakfast are varied daily and the lunch on the menu is healthy. Junk food like chips and aerated drinks are not available in the canteen and are not encouraged on campus,” says the principal of an unaided school in Bengaluru. 

Design of cities:  However, childhood obesity is not limited to food consumption alone. Dr Rebecca Kuriyan Raj, Professor and Head, Division of Nutrition, St John’s Research Institute identifies that child environment, including school, home and neighbourhood, are equally influential factors for weight gain. Dr Rebecca was the corresponding author of a research paper on the walkability index of cities and its association with childhood obesity which elaborates this phenomenon.  In Bengaluru, 13 percent of schoolgoing children were overweight, while 5 percent were obese, according to this paper.   “Neighborhood walkability, the capability to support walking for multiple purposes such as availing transport, shopping, recreation for children, and commuting to school has shown to promote physical activity and prevent obesity. Increased walkability characteristics have been associated with lower body mass index (BMI) score in children and in adults,” the report says, stressing the need for structured urban planning. 

Undernutrition and obesity:  As data from the Women and Child Development Ministry shows, obesity is no longer an “elite problem” and has pervaded all strata of society. While anganwadis in Bengaluru Urban have 4 per cent obese children, those in lesser-developed districts such as Chamarajanagar and Yadgir have 6 per cent and 7 per cent of obese children respectively.  The general assumption is that the children in anganwadis are underweight. Hence, this data might seem strange at the outset.
Jyotsna Sripada, Research Associate, Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University offers insight into this curious trend by pointing out that “malnourishment” includes both undernutrition (conditions such as underweight, stunting, wasting and severe wasting) and overnutrition (overweight and obesity). “As part of the current policy landscape, anganwadis are designed to address undernutrition. The take-home ration for children below three and supplementary nutrition provided for children between three and six years contribute to only a small portion of the recommended daily allowance for children,” she explains. 

Further, children belonging to vulnerable and marginalized sections are often trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, malnutrition, and disease as access to nutrition and health-related services is grossly impeded by factors such as geographical location, socio-economic and cultural determinants, household dynamics, and gender, she adds.  Obesity is also not merely related to weight and even thin children could be obese, Dr Rebecca points out. Measuring obesity by body weight alone is a myopic view of the issue. Even thin children could have accumulated more body fat and have abnormal blood biomarkers.

Policy: For instance, the Comprehensive National Nutritional Survey states that abdominal obesity is an important indicator for increased risk of morbidity and mortality from non-communicable diseases.  “Abdominal obesity can occur even at normal BMI levels and can be diagnosed in childhood and adolescence,” the report says. The Indian population has a disposition for greater truncal adiposity, which is a less healthy way to store body fat. 
This poses higher risk of non-communicable diseases, the report further states. As per the survey, 2 per cent of children and adolescents in the country had abdominal obesity (measured by waist circumference). 
When it comes to policy interventions to tackle obesity, especially among children from vulnerable sections of the society, Dr Karpagam warns against the misconception of ‘overnutrition’ associated with being ‘overweight’ and calls it a “fallacious point of view”.  “Obesity still means that the child is not receiving adequate nutrition or is receiving the wrong kinds of food. There has to be qualitative data on food consumption by children, failing which, the response by policymakers will be that ‘children are becoming obese so there is no need for social schemes or other nutritional interventions,” she cautions.


St. John’s Research Institute part of global collaborative effort to develop point-of-care diagnostic technologies.

Oct 10,2023

An interdisciplinary team led by Cornell University has received a five-year grant to launch a new center for engineering, testing and commercializing point-of-care diagnostic devices that will have international reach.  St. John’s Research Institute, based out of St. John’s Medical College Campus, Bengaluru, India, is one of the international sites that will be actively collaborating in this global collaborative effort.  The Point Of Care Technology Research Network (POCTRN) is supported by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), at the National Institutes of Health, US, to develop technologies with clinical applications. It uses a network model that enhances complementary strengths and builds multidisciplinary partnerships.

The newly established Point of Care Technologies for Nutrition, Infection, and Cancer for Global Health (PORTENT) Center led by Dr. David Erickson at Cornell Engineering and Dr. Saurabh Mehta, the Janet and Gordon Lankton Professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, USA will initially be up to a 5-year initiative.   Partnering with Cornell University in PORTENT will be a number of universities and health organizations in four continents.  New technologies in the areas of nutrition, infection, and cancer will be invited to join the center through a global solicitation annually. These will then be validated at four clinical sites: Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City; St. John’s Research Institute in India; the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral in Ecuador; and the Infectious Diseases Institute in Kampala in Uganda.  This clinical and validation core will be co-led by Dr. Marshall Glesby, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Dr. Julia Finkelstein, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition in the Division of Nutritional Sciences.  McGill University and Columbia University will provide training and help build capacity for the developers as they tailor their technology and develop business plans to bring their products from lab to market.

The need for affordable point-of-care diagnostics was highlighted in a 2021 report from the Lancet Diagnostics Commission that noted that nearly half of the world’s population does not have access to testing for primary care.

PORTENT is focused on supporting the development, deployment, clinical validation, and commercialization of point-of-care diagnostic devices and technologies for nutrition, infection, and cancer for global health in resource-limited settings where access to better diagnostics can have the largest worldwide impact.

PORTENT will be funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), Fogarty International Center, and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health – components of the National Institutes of Health.

At St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI), Bengaluru, India, Dr. Tony Raj, Dean and Head, Division of Medical Informatics (SJRI) will lead this partnership and will work along with co-leads  Dr. Rebecca Kuriyan Raj, Head, Division of Nutrition, and Dr. Mary Dias, Head, Division of Infectious Diseases.  The Research Institute will facilitate in-house clinical testing and validation of point-of-care devices, collaborate with multidisciplinary teams, conduct clinical needs assessments in areas anticipated to advance the field of point-of-care testing, and disseminate this information to the technology development community. SJRI will also invite new technologies by developers in India to join the center. In the first year for example, Bigtec Labs, the wholly owned R&D subsidiary of MolBio Diagnostics Pvt. Ltd will be validating their Malaria POC test in partnership with PORTENT.

PORTENT is funded by NIBIB grant # U54EB034654.


Link to published News article  



New immunology study highlights importance of COVID vaccination of those who have already been exposed to the virus

Sep 24,2023


The multi-centric study led by researchers from St John’s Research Institute was published in npj Vaccines, a Nature journal on September 14.
A study of COVID-19 vaccine immunity highlights the importance of vaccination in those who have already been exposed to the virus.

The study has found that both COVISHIELD and COVAXIN significantly enhance immune responses in subjects with varying levels of basal immunity to SARS CoV-2 developed through natural exposure.The multi-centric study led by researchers from St John’s Research Institute was published in npj Vaccines, a Nature journal on September 14.


Fungal skin infections rising, not responding to usual drugs: Docs

Jul 31,2023

Times of India, Bengaluru: Updated: Jul 23, 2023, 05:17 IST 

Bengaluru: Chittaranjan Das (Name changed), 37, who wears shoes every day, was flummoxed when he had severe itching between the toes of his right foot. He also noticed small red patches in the great toe area, which increased in size in the next few days. As the symptoms worsened, he asked a friend for advice and got an ointment from a pharmacy.


It seemed to help initially, but after two weeks, the patches resurfaced involving the sole. He visited a dermatologist, who examined him and took samples for tests, last month.


“The sample was positive for a fungus affecting the skin (dermatophyte) which was resistant to the routinely used antifungal preparations. He was reassured on the management protocol and advised on care of the foot, including footwear, socks, etc. He required treatment with specific oral antifungal agents for almost eight weeks and was monitored for recurrence.” said Dr. Jayanthi Savio, professor and head, the department of microbiology, and principal investigator, ICMR South Zone AMDRC, St John’s Medical College Dermatophytosis, an infection caused by fungi, is becoming increasingly prevalent.


“The incidence of fungal infection of the skin has increased significantly.

Patients are coming with extensive, resistant fungal infection that covers large areas of the body and does not respond to regular medication." said Dr Anil Abraham, consultant dermatologist, Abrahams Skin & Hair Clinic, Bengaluru.

He said he used to see at least 2-3 fungal infection cases every day in his 30 years of practice, but now the number has gone up to 8-10. “More importantly, they are severe, spread all over the body and respond poorly to mild or usual medication”, he said. Dr. Govind S Mittal, founder, director and consultant dermatologist, Therapeia Skin Hair and ENT Centre, Bengaluru, said, 'The prevalence of patients with recurrent dermatophytozis has definitely increased tremendously in the last 7-8 years That there have been at least 30-40% more than the usual number of cases can be a safe number to say for the last eight years. More importantly, multiple members of the same family are not getting cured easily and are not responding to short courses of antifungals. The abuse of over-the-counter creams and steroid containing creams given by friendly medical stores has also been a big menace to deal.


"People wearing tight jeans and shoes are more vulnerable to dermatophytosis,” according to Dr. Shivprakash M Rudramurthy, professor and in-charge, Mycology Division, Department of Mycology, PGIMEP Chandigarh. So are those who put clothes soon after a shower without wiping water off their body, he added.


Drug resistance against routinely used antifungals may cause treatment failure even in easily manageable cases of dermatophytosis, thus requiring chronic and prolonged treatment, said Dr. Savio.

Avoiding self-medication and timely consultation with experts can help prevent drug resistance to a large extent. 'The other area which requires to be explored is the use of antifungals in agriculture and animal husbandry and their role in the development of resistance,” she added.



Eat what you can grow: Microgreenfarming now catching up in Bengaluru.

Jul 31,2023

Times of India, Bengaluru News, Updated: Jul 23, 2023, 10:13 IST  

BENGALURU: Trapped in the concrete jungle, many Bengalureans are turning to microgreen farming to grow their own food by soaking in the joys of sowing seeds, watering plants and harvesting.

Dr. Renuka Verma from Hebbal says nothing gives her more delight than looking at sprouts popping out of green moong and methi seeds. The 48-year-old dentist took to farming before the Covid-19 pandemic and uses her homegrown microgreens for salads and in baking.

Simran Oberoi from Old Airport Road grows mustard and radish microgreens and mainly uses them in salads, dressings, spreads and dips. "I've tried growing a very small quantity of sunflower and basil," she says.
Tending to baby plants that do not require soil and can be grown in wet tissue papers is the perfect stress buster for many.

Anamika Bist, 50, an NIFT graduate who worked in the retail sector for 21 years, ran a community and microgreen farm at Sampigehalli for five years. "I used to grow more than 15 varieties of microgreens. Hardly anyone knew about these baby greens when I started growing them. People used to get confused with sprouts and microgreens. started giving free workshops during the pandemic and even launched DIY (do it yourself) kits for people to grow them at home to boost immunity," she says.

Anamika, who shut down her farm during the second wave of Covid, still grows microgreens for her family in her kitchen garden. "I grow radish, peas and sunflower... time favourite. I use my microgreens for salads, sandwiches, pesto and for garnishing. My family and friends are addicted after seeing the benefits. Also, different colours of microgreens make the food visually appealing."

Microgreens can be grown even in an office cubicle. Some like moong can be harvested in a week. Studies have also found that microgreens have 40 times more nutrients than their mature counterparts.

"Keep the seeds in the dark until they germinate and then expose them to sunlight. If you've grown sprouts, you already know how to germinate. Just do the same thing in a tray with cocopeat, soil mix or even tissue paper, and water them," explains Vinod Chakravarti, an urban farmer who has helped over 5,000 households in growing microgreens. "It's not mandatory for you to use any additional manure...The seeds have enough nutrition to grow till the microgreen stage," adds Chakravarti, who was vice-president of a large mutual fund firm, heading operations and sales in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Microgreen farming can be a beautiful family-bonding activity, says Nidhi Nahata, nutritionist and founder of Justbe a whole foods, plant-based vegan eatery based in Bengaluru. "You can use them in salads, smoothies and cold-pressed juices. We have started putting microgreens in desserts too," says Nahata.


WHO stamp for St John's, Canada Institute's Polypill

Jul 30,2023

Deccan Herald News: Jul 30, 2023 

With its inclusion in WHO's EML, polypill is expected to be included in India's essential list as well, and possibly in the country's public health programmes later. 

Polypill, a single capsule that combines four to five drugs to reduce cardiovascular diseases and death risks, has been adopted in WHO’s Model List of Essential Medicines (EML) based on studies by Bengaluru’s St John’s Medical College and Research Institute (SJRI) and Canada’s Population Health Research Institute.

Many Indians have hypertension and high cholesterol levels which require taking multiple tablets lifelong, resulting in high costs and low treatment adherence. A single polypill can substitute these medicines.

With its inclusion in WHO’s EML, polypill is expected to be included in India’s essential medicines list as well, and possibly in the country’s public health programmes later.

Polypill is not a new drug, but is a combination of pre-existing drugs, says Dr. Denis Xavier, head of pharmacology and clinical research at the SJRI. The combination includes three common blood pressure-lowering drugs and one lowering drug, with or without aspirin.

The capsule was developed in India around 2005, in collaboration with Dr. Salim Yusuf in Canada.

The Indian Polycap Study (TIPS-I), conducted among 2,053 Indians with a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, was published in 2009. It showed that the pill significantly reduced hypertension and cholesterol levels. TIPS-2 established the tablet’s safety and efficacy at higher doses.

The International Polycap Study (TIPS-3) was conducted between 2012 and 2019 among 5,713 people across the world, of whom nearly half were from India. This study found that, among people with an intermediate risk for heart disease, the risk of heart attack, stroke and death by 31%. But getting the drug into the EML was a long process, with the WHO rejecting the researchers’ application twice, says Dr Xavier.

The approval came the third time after the team conducted a meta-analysis of TIPS and two other polypill studies, which showed over 40% reduction in heart attacks, strokes and deaths.

Dr. Xavier says that currently polypill is not popular globally as it is not a profit-making proposition for pharma companies, and since many doctors prefer to titrate multiple medicines frequently as per blood test results. “But such titration is needed for only about 20% of patients.” He adds that polypills can be developed at different doses too, and even for other conditions like diabetes plus hypertension.

Dr. Prem Pais, principal investigator of the TIPS study at SJRI, says, “In people who have not yet had a heart problem but have risk factors like hypertension, polypill can significantly reduce heart attacks and deaths. It can be used in public health programmes because it can be given in a fixed dose without necessarily measuring the patient’s cholesterol levels, etc., regularly.”


Advanced Mycology Diagnostic and Research Centre inaugurated at St John’s Medical College and Hospital in Bengaluru

Jul 12,2023

By: Express News Service, Bengaluru | Updated: July 12, 2023 11:31 IST

Dr Rajiv Bahl (Secretary, Division of Health Research, Govt of India & Director General, ICMR), inaugurated the centre virtually.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) threw open its Advanced Mycology Diagnostic and Research Centre (AMDRC) at St John’s Medical College and Hospital in Bengaluru Tuesday.

The centre will focus on training, diagnostics, research and community advocacy in the field of mycology (fungal infections) and cater to the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and the Union Territory of Puducherry, said ICMR officials.

Dr. Rajiv Bahl, Secretary, Division of Health Research, Govt of India, and Director General-ICMR, inaugurated the centre virtually. He emphasised on the importance of building national assets in health research. “These would be essential in addressing the problems of today while preparing for the crisis situations of tomorrow,” he said.

Dr. Jayanthi Savio, Professor and Head, Department of Microbiology, and Principal Investigator-AMDRC, said the centre will help in patient management using state-of-art advanced molecular techniques in diagnosis. “Students and faculty will be trained in mycology, thus building a repository of experts in the field across the country.Awareness regarding fungal infections will be promoted to facilitate early reporting and better treatment of patients in need,” she said.

“With this new facility, it is believed that we will be able to help manage a major threat in the form of fungal infections, which are known to be silent killers causing misery to millions and more deaths, compared to TB and Malaria,” a release from the hospital said.

Dr Sujatha Rathod, Director of Medical Education, Karnataka is committed to collaborative research in mycology in the 70 medical colleges across the state.


Consuming foods like legumes, nuts, fish and whole-fat dairy products key to lowering risk of heart disease, finds study.

Jul 11,2023

Consuming fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and whole-fat dairy products is key to lowering the risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), including heart attacks and strokes, according to a recent study.

The study led by researchers from McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences researchers at the Population Research Health Institute (PHRI) was published in the European Heart Journal on July 6.

The Hindu: 


Holistic approach needed to tackle severe acute malnutrition: study

Jun 01,2023

June 01, 2023 06:00 am | Updated 06:00 am IST - Bengaluru - The Hindu Bureau


There is a need for a holistic approach to tackle the problem of severe acute malnutrition, reveals a research study carried out by St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI) through funding received from Karnataka Biotechnology and Information Technology Services (KBITS).

The study, “Perceptions of healthcare providers and mothers on management and care of severely wasted children: a qualitative study in Karnataka” was conducted by Dr. Sumathi Swaminathan, Associate Professor, Division of Nutrition, Madhu Mitha Manivannan, Senior Research Fellow, Division of Nutrition, and Manjulika Vaz, Lecturer, Division of Health and Humanities, at SJRI between June 2018 and March 2019, in two districts, Raichur and Bengaluru Urban.

News Article URL: 

Dr. Arpita Mukhopadhyay, Associate Professor, St. John's Research Institute has been selected for the Janaki Ammal - National Women Bioscientists Award: 2021-22.

Apr 11,2023

Dr. Arpita Mukhopadhyay, Associate Professor, St. John's Research Institute has been selected for the Janaki Ammal - National Women Bioscientists Award: 2021-22.

IKP Global Regulators Forum (IGRF), a global forum set up to work with JSS University and the IKP. Dr. Tony Raj, Dean of SJRI, is chosen as a member of this committee, headed by Dr. Surinder Singh (VC, JSS University, Mysore & Fmr DCGI) & Dr. D. Roy (Fmr Dy Director, CDSCO).

Feb 16,2023

Retd regulators form IGRF to help pharma & medical device start-ups for marketing authorisation abroad. Monday, February 27, 2023, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]:

With a noble intention to support budding entrepreneurs and to bridge the gap between start-ups and international regulators, a team of intellectuals retired from the Central regulatory agency have formed a global consultancy forum to sensitize entrepreneurs about international regulatory requirements for marketing authorization in foreign markets.

The global forum, christened as IKP Global Regulators Forum or IGRF is headed by former Drug Controller General of India Dr. Surinder Singh who is now holding the position of vice-chancellor of the JSS University in Mysore. The global forum is headquartered in Hyderabad and the process for registration is going on, sources informed.
Dr. D. Roy, former deputy director at the CDSCO office in Chennai and a member of the IGRF core committee, said the purpose of this forum is to convert it in the form of an international organisation and work jointly with the JSS University and the IKP, the International Knowledge Park established in Hyderabad and Bangalore to help the pharma and medical devices companies and the MSMEs.    
“Today so many things are happening and several developments are coming up in the pharma and medical devices fields. Because of poor knowledge about national and international regulatory systems the budding entrepreneurs are not in a position to cope up with the marketing authorisation. So, IGRF will act as a unique collaborative platform for entrepreneurs, start-ups and MSMEs to support them in navigating the regulatory challenges and guide them for the same”, said Dr. Roy.  
He said the core committee will start collaborating with various national and international regulators and make a digital platform initially to address various problems faced by the innovators/start-ups for marketing authorization of their innovative products and their reasonable solutions. IGRF has been launched to help such entrepreneurs.
When asked whether the efforts of the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council are not sufficient in helping the new entrepreneurs who want to do marketing business in foreign markets, especially in the EU markets, Dr. Roy said Pharmexcil is helping the existing manufacturers, but IGRF targets the start-up entrepreneurships. The primary aim is to bridge the gap between the start-ups and the regulators.
Sharing information with Pharmabiz, he said a meeting was held at the JSS University in Mysore recently under the chairmanship of Dr. Surinder Singh and a seven-member core-committee has been formed. The forum will soon include regulators from foreign countries as members. The second sitting of the Forum will be held in the first week of next month in Hyderabad.

Apart from Dr. Surinder Singh and Dr. D. Roy, the members of the core committee include Dr. K Bangarurajan, former JDC at CDSCO, New Delhi, Dr. Dhananjay Patankar, former head of the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical development in Bengaluru, Dr. Tony Raj, Dean, St. John's Research Institute in Karnataka, Ranajit Sen, start-up consultant at IKP in Hyderabad, Dr. Sridhar Ramanathan, senior vice-president at IKP Eden and Dr. Priyankana Mukherjee.


Out of Step in Bengaluru

Jan 19,2023

Pilot study of multiple localities puts walkability index of Bengaluru at 16.5 out of 30

The walkability infrastructure of Bengaluru falls under the ‘average’ category, according to a study conducted by researchers from St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences.

As per the pilot study done in multiple localities across the city, the walkability index of Bengaluru is 16.5 out of 30.

The researchers calculated the index by using standard variables on walking infrastructure in around 12 localities in central and west Bengaluru and found a score of 16.5, which was midway, suggesting that it can be improved.

“The walkability index is a measure of how the built environment (buildings, streets, sidewalks) is friendly to walking. The walkability index of the city can certainly be improved. Lack of sidewalks, traffic snarls, faded zebra crossings, perennial construction and repair work are some factors that may pose difficulties to pedestrians in the city,” said Dr Rebecca Kuriyan, professor and head, Division of Nutrition, St. John’s Research Institute, St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences.

The study found that the cases of obesity and overweight among school-going children in Bengaluru are going up due to the city’s walkability problems after examining the body mass index of as many as 292 children aged six to 15 years in the city. Around 20% of the children living in localities with poor walkability index were either overweight or obese. “We wanted to understand if there is any association between the walkability index and childhood obesity such as BMI and body fat.

We conducted a pilot study to ascertain this and found that the walkability index is negatively associated with BMI and the percentage of body fat in younger children. In the study population of children, 15% were overweight, while 5% were obese,” added Dr Kuriyan.

The researchers further added that since there seems to be an uptick in childhood obesity over the last few years, the need of the hour is optimal urban planning and transport policies to create and preserve built environments, with supportive infrastructure for active commuting such as walking and cycling. Healthcare experts agreed. According to Dr Namratha Upadhya, pediatrician, Aster RV Hospital, the major factors contributing to the rise in childhood obesity are increased consumption of energy-dense foods loaded with fats and sugar coupled with a sedentary lifestyle.

“The most common cause of obesity seen in children is exogenous or related to their food habits and sedentary lifestyle. Obesity can lead to serious consequences such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, sleep problems, and musculoskeletal & behaviour changes. Simple day-to-day changes like walking up to a grocery store, a few blocks to board a bus or train, or taking stairs for short flights can help children lower their body fat,” said Dr Upadhya.


Covishield immune responses against COVID-19 variants higher than Covaxin, says study

Jan 08,2023

‘Our study findings indicate that a higher frequency of Covishield recipients show the presence of antibodies post-vaccination as compared to Covaxin,’ says Dr Vineeta Bal, an immunologist from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune and one of the study authors.


Neutralising antibody responses against COVID-19 variants of concern (VoC) are higher in Covishield recipients than those who took Covaxin, according to a new study. Not only that, seropositive individuals (those who were already infected and had recovered from Covid before the first dose of vaccination) showed a higher response compared to seronegative individuals.

Covishield elicited immune responses of a higher magnitude and breadth than Covaxin in both Covid seronegative individuals and seropositive individuals. “Our study findings indicate that a higher frequency of Covishield recipients show presence of antibodies post-vaccination as compared to Covaxin,” says Dr Vineeta Bal, noted immunologist from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune and one of the study authors.

Titled “Interim results from comparison of immune responses elicited by an inactivated and a vectored SARS-CoV-2 vaccine in seronegative and seropositive participants in India”, the study was published as a preprint on medRxiV on Friday. “This is a longitudinal, multi-centre study that has tried to provide data on relative abilities of two commonly used vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin in India,” Dr Bal adds.

This study addresses two main questions. The first is does the vaccine outcome vary if the individuals were already infected and had recovered from Covid before the first dose of vaccination [seropositive] or not [seronegative]? The second question was about the relative strength of the two vaccines in terms of their ability to trigger antibody responses. “We tried to find what proportion of individuals receiving two doses generate antibody response and whether the amount of antibody generated in Covaxin and Covishield recipients is comparable,” Dr Bal explains.
While after the first and second dose of Covishield, concentration of antibodies increased in seronegative individuals by 2.1 and 7.6 fold, Covaxin did not attain such high levels of antibodies, the study found.

Does that mean we need another booster dose? Says Dr Bal, “Personally, in today’s date, I do not think a booster dose — a precautionary one, third or fourth — whether by the same vaccine or another vaccine, is necessary for the young adult population [18-60 years]. A huge proportion has developed ‘hybrid immunity.’ For special categories, such as the immunocompromised, who may not respond well to vaccines in general, a booster might be considered. For the 5-18 year age group also vaccination has been very patchy. They do not have the advantage of developing ‘hybrid immunity.’ A standard protein-based vaccination with an approved vaccine is what should be prioritised for this group,” the expert adds.

The clinical cohort included volunteers who had already been infected with SARS-CoV-2 in addition to those never infected. Dr Anu Raghunathan, senior principal scientist from CSIR-NCL and principal investigator of the VISION (Vaccine Immunology Studies – Indian Outbreak-response Network) at NCL, says that the breadth and potency of responses was higher with Covishield than with Covaxin against SARS-CoV-2 VoCs. Also, seropositive individuals showed a higher response compared to seronegative individuals.

In India, the COVID-19 vaccination drive in the 18 to 45-year age-group began in April 2021 when seropositivity rates in the general population were rising following the Delta wave in April-May 2021. Because vaccination in the young adult population was initiated after the Delta wave [April-May 2021], some of the vaccine recipients factored in this study had been possibly already infected and recovered.

Between June 30, 2021 and January 28, 2022 , a total of 691 participants in the 18-45 age group were enrolled across four clinical sites in Pune and rural Bengaluru. The study collaborators included Christian Medical College, Vellore, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, DBT- National Centre for Cell Sciences, Pune,CSIR- National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, St. John’s Research Institute, Bengaluru,Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, among others.


As per the prevailing government norms, participants received either two doses of Covaxin at 28 days apart or two doses of Covishield three months apart.

The Omicron wave in early 2022 overlapped with the second dose of vaccine at two sites and with both doses at one site. Participants were sampled at six timepoints for antibody analyses and at four time points for cellular analyses. At all the time points tested, geometric mean titers (GMTs) in the Covishield arm were higher than in the Covaxin arm.

The timing of vaccination relative to the Delta and Omicron waves that are circulating variants of concern potentially impacted the antibody titre or humoral immune response. Thus there were cohort and site-specific differences in immune responses in the study consortium.

Overall, for both cohorts in Pune, seroconversion was much lower for both vaccines in seropositives; however among the two vaccines, Covishield performed better. Most of the individuals who were infected earlier did not respond to Covaxin, says Dr Akanksha Chaturvedi, immunologist from DBT-NCCS. For the seronegative individuals, both vaccines increased antibody titers. But the increase was significant for Covishield, Dr Raghunathan points out.


Study shows BCG revaccination can boost immune efficacy of Covishield

Oct 12,2022

A multi-institutional study led by researchers from St. John's Research Institute has found that BCG revaccination of young adults can boost the immune efficacy of Covishield vaccine.
Published last week in Frontiers in Immunology, a peer-reviewed journal, this study provides the first in-depth analysis of immune responses to Covishield, the first and most widely distributed COVID-19 vaccine in India.

BCG vaccine is routinely administered in many countries at birth. When given for the second time in young adults, this group of researchers previously showed that it could boost immune responses targeting genes expressed by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the causative agent of TB) without any adverse effects.

Historical evidence

There is historical evidence on the beneficial effects of BCG vaccination enhancing immune responses more widely, beyond its known protective effects in preventing TB in the young, including enhancing immune responses specifically induced by a variety of vaccines. This prompted the research team to explore the impact of BCG revaccination of young adults on immune responses induced by the Covishield vaccine as part of the first COVID-19 vaccine roll out programme in India.

Annapurna Vyakarnam, Professor of Microbial Immunology at King’s College, London and Adjunct Professor at St. John’s Research Institute and her research team along with scientists at Christian Medical College, Vellore, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, Seattle, USA, Radboud and Leiden University, Netherlands conducted an in depth analysis of Covishield induced immune responses in those revaccinated with BCG and control non-revaccinated subjects over time measuring responses induced by the first dose of Covishield. They were then followed up to 23 weeks post administration of the second dose.

As many as 103 healthcare workers aged 18-24 at St. John’s Medical College Hospital, who had all received BCG vaccine at birth, were recruited for the study from October 2019 to June 2021. Those with chronic illness such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, cancer, kidney/thyroid illness, asthma, epilepsy, jaundice or with a history of clinical tuberculosis disease and on medication were excluded.

“Of the 103, as many as 66 were confirmed Interferon Gamma Release Assay (IGRA) negative (who probably did not have the TB bacteria in their body). While 35 received BCG revaccination and 31 did not prior to getting the COVID jab (Covishield). Compared to unvaccinated individuals, BCG revaccinated individuals had significantly better responses to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, including immune response critical for the control of both the Wuhan-Hu-1 and Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2,” Prof. Vyakarnam told The Hindu on Tuesday.

Inherent capacity

“Importantly, our research showed that BCG had the inherent capacity to boost the hosts’ first line of defence, which includes immune cells critical in general for vaccine induced immunity,” she said.

“Our study was designed to test whether immune responses induced by highly efficacious Covishield can be further boosted in a SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccine naïve population. The fact that BCG does have this potential in a young healthy population calls for further analysis... We highlight the potential of using a cheap and globally available vaccine as an adjuvant for novel and emerging vaccines, an area of significant scientific interest, with the added advantage that the timeline over which BCG adjuvant effects have been noted span several years,” Prof. Vyakarnam said.

“Our findings provide a rational basis for more expanded research on BCG vaccination induced immunity. BCG revaccination of adults can be considered as a low-cost and globally acceptable future pandemic preparedness plan to enhance population immunity to future vaccines targeting current and emerging infectious agents,” she added.  



New GloCal Site PI Council convenes first meeting

May 24,2022

“Dr. Tony Raj, Dean, SJRI, has been on the Leadership Group for the GLoCal Fellowship program since 2016.

He is also the site Principal Investigator in India for the recently awarded NIH-Fogarty Training Grant titled ‘University of California Launching Future Leaders in Global Health Research Training Program’.

Major Goals: This program supports year-long global health fellowships for advanced UC doctoral and professional students, US post-doctoral fellows, and post-doctoral fellows from 21 partner institutions in low- and middle-income countries. This program will engage trainees in an intensive 12-month research project conducted at one of the affiliated international research sites. It aims to produce multidisciplinary global health leaders and strengthen the network of research and training across UC campuses and its international partnering institutions.

On May 24th the GloCal Health Fellowship held its first Site PI Council meeting. The Site PI Council is meant to improve communication between our 21 partner institutions around the world with the leadership of GloCal. We anticipate that improved communication will help to make sure that the program is more responsive to the needs of our partners, and that our partners provide feedback to the program and Fogarty International Center leadership. In addition, the Council will meet four times per year to help create a greater sense of community and collaboration between sites within our global regions.


Pre-clinical findings support the potential use of RhoVac's drug candidate, onilcamotide, across several cancers.

May 19,2022

In order for a T-cell based cancer vaccine to work, it must be able to induce T cell recognition and elimination of cells expressing one or several target proteins (antigens). These are typically presented by the cells either via receptors called MHC-I or MHC-II. RhoVac's cancer vaccine candidate, onilcamotide, is predominantly driven by T cells of the CD4+ sub-type, and these cells require the antigen to be presented by MHC-II receptors. The pre-clinical study collaboration with Dr Sweta Srivastava, a faculty within St. Johns National Academy of Health Sciences (St. John's Research Institute), CBCI, has now shown that these types of receptors (MHC-II) are found in many different forms of cancer cells, and that RhoC appears to be co-located with these receptors on the cell surface. The data suggests that onilcamotide is tissue agnostic, i.e., that it could be used across cancer types. The data has even documented the presence of MHC-II receptors in more types of cancer than previously known. Fore reference, please find a first article on the findings here:

HUL To Fund Comprehensive Research In India To Identify Factors Driving COVID-19 Vax Efficacy

Sep 09,2021

This research is being enabled by the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India’s programme to stimulate collaborations between industry and academia. It is being carried out by the platform VISION (Vaccine Immunology Studies – Indian Outbreak-response Network) which includes top public and private research institutes in Bangalore (National Centre for Biological Science (NCBS-TIFR), a Centre of Tata Institute for Fundamental Research; Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine, a DBT Institute) and Pune (Indian Institute for Science Education and Research, Pune (IISER-Pune), CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory), and Clinical Research Centres in Bangalore (Baptist Hospital and St John’s Research Institute), Vellore (Christian Medical College), and Pune (KEM Hospital and Research Centre and Symbiosis Hospital and Research Centre). HUL will also provide additional analytical and data analyses support through its R&D scientists to the consortium partners, as needed.

CLICK HERE to the read the news


Response to the Invitation for Public Comment: Consultation Paper on Unified Health Interface (UHI)

Sep 08,2021

On June 22, 2021, the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) and National Health Authority (NHA) of India released a consultation paper on its proposed Unified Health Interface (UHI), a critical building block of the national digital health ecosystem under development. In response to this request for public comments, domain experts from St. John's Research Institute, ThoughtWorks India, and the India Digital Health Network (IDHN) at Harvard's Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute submitted a response



Indian Scientist Finds Way To Detect Colon Cancer Early And Save Lives India Times

Aug 08,2021

A collaborative study involving four Indian institutes (National Institute Of Immunology, AIIMS, Regional Centre for Biotechnology, Faridabad, St John’s Research Institute, Bengaluru) and one French Institute, University of Strasbourg have figured out a way to detect colon cancer as early as stage 1, to ensure an effective recovery.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), it is the third most common form of cancer in men (663,000 cases in 2014, amounting to 10 percent of all cancer cases) and second most common in women (571,000 cases in 2014 amounting to 9.4 percent of all cancer cases).

Colon cancer is also notorious to be one of the forms of cancer that’s detected at really late stages and there are two techniques that result in effective detection -- CT colonography, colonoscopy and immunohistochemistry. CT colonography involves low-dose radiation, colonoscopy is invasive and really uncomfortable and immunohistochemistry is subjective and can at times be non-reproducible. 

The new study, led by Dr Sagar Sengupta from the National Institute of Immunology has however found a novel way to identify the disease as early as stage 1 through his lab’s work on microRNAs. 

These microRNAs are minute single-stranded non-coding RNA molecules that silence the expression of proteins. The microRNAs are known to fuse to the messenger RNA molecules that code for the proteins and thus either inactivate or destroy them.

The study has found that six microRNAs get upregulated in colon cancer cells -- the levels of these are controlled by master regulator protein CDX2. The upregulated microRNAs which were named ‘DNA damage sensitive microRNAs’ (DDSM for short) was found to target a group of cellular proteins which are needed to maintain the original nature of genetic material in each cell of the human body.

Lab mice experiments revealed that the cells have a greater tendency to form cancers if there is an overexpression of these microRNAs and loss of the aforementioned genome stabilisers.

The findings have been tested on datasets in the Cancer Genome Atlas as well as in a group of colon cancer patients who had come to All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

Researchers discovered that DDSMs were upregulated even in the case of stage 1 colon cancer tissues. This was seen even till stage 4 cancers. Moreover, increased DDSM levels reduced the probability of the patient’s survival.

Dr Sengupta said in a statement to India Science Wire, “We believe that the identified DDSMs can serve as an invaluable biomarker for colon cancer early detection process. We now have to determine whether the DDSMs can also be detected in patient blood samples. If that is possible, it would make colon cancer detection as simple as the detection of blood sugar in diabetic patients”.

This is a great piece of technological breakthrough, which will no doubt help save lives lost to cancer.

News Article Link : Indian Scientist Finds Way To Detect Colon Cancer Early And Save Lives

Remove vitamin A from national supplement policy: supplement policy: Experts

Jun 17,2021

Researchers from the city-based National Institute of Nutrition, St John’s Research Institute, Bangalore, and Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research, New Delhi, warned of a possible risk of hypervitaminosis.In their study published the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers evaluated whether vitamin A deficiencies still presented a serious public health problem among children below five years of age.

Times of India News


NIN for leafy vegetables, fruits for Vitamin A intake in kids

Jun 17,2021

Food-based initiatives through green leafy vegetables and fruits can meet daily vitamin A requirement, while not putting the children below five years at risk of excess intake. Hence, authorities concerned should consider a targeted state-based Vitamin A supplementation (VAS) programme, unlike the current nation-wide megadose VAS program in the country, say scientists of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)-National Institute of Nutrition (NIN).

A joint research effort in association with researchers at St. John’s Research Institute, Bengaluru, and Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science & Research, New Delhi, had found that Vitamin A Deficiencies (VAD) among children is not a public health problem anymore as the national prevalence of risk is below 20% in children.

In fact, the researchers warned of a possible risk of ‘hypervitaminosis’ caused by excess intake with food fortification and supplementation. Vitamin A (VA), essential for vision and many biological activities, must be provided in the diet as it cannot be synthesised by humans. VAD can lead to eye problems, from night blindness to more severe clinical conditions such as keratomalacia and corneal scars, among children.

VAD along with nutritional blindness was a major public health problem in 1950s and 60s, in 1970, the National Prophylaxis Program Against Nutritional Blindness was initiated by providing mega doses of Vitamin A with children below five years administered the same once in six months in tune with the WHO/UNICEF recommendations. Now, with reduction of infant and child mortality rates, progress in immunisation coverage, underpinned by almost complete decline in clinical signs of VAD in children, scientists feel the need to revisit the programme.

“The study draws on the sample of the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-2018. It showed VAD based on serum retinol levels was 15.7% among 1-5 years old children, lesser than the 20% mark that defines a serious public health problem,” said NIN director R. Hemalatha.

There were very few children (as low as 0.4%) with very low serum retinol values at which serious clinical problems are likely to manifest. There were no significant differences in serum retinol values between urban and rural children, and boys and girls. The study also derived the estimated average requirement (EAR) as 198 and 191 ?g/d for boys and girls, respectively for assessing dietary adequacy of Vitamin A.

“We evaluated dietary vitamin A from data of National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) and National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB). When dietary intake, food fortification and VAS are factored in, there is a risk of exceeding the upper limit of intake of Vitamin A in a proportion of children particularly from higher socio-economic status. We did not find any evidence of mortality benefit due to mega-dose administration throughout the country”, added lead author and senior scientist Bhanuprakash Reddy.

The study results were published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The Hindu News


India COVID-19 Tracker

May 21,2021

St. John’s Research Institute Dashboard for COVID-19 in India and its states


India COVID-19 Tracker



St. John’s develops new test to measure Vit B12 absorption

Mar 02,2021

A team of researchers from St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI) has developed a new test to measure vitamin B12 absorption in humans with stable 13C isotopes. Earlier, this was possible only using the radio-isotopes-based Schilling test.

This major clinical development has been published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Vitamin B12 deficiency, that is widespread in India, is linked to many poor health outcomes. It is mainly due to a low intake of animal source foods or malabsorption. The problem lies in measuring whether it is well absorbed from the diet or from remedial supplements. Unless the absorption is known, it is very hard to design the appropriate dose to remedy deficiencies.

Sarita Devi from St. John’s Research Institute, who is the lead author of the paper, said unfortunately, the measurement of vitamin B12 absorption is not performed now, because the original or modified Schilling’s test requires radioisotopes. “The problem is the use of radioactive isotopes (Cobalt in this case), which is heavily restricted, to ‘label’ vitamin B12 so that it can be traced to quantify its absorption. This problem has continued for the last 70 years, since Dr. Schilling first published his eponymous testing method,” she explained.

The study describes the re-engineering and innovation of a new method to measure Vitamin B12 absorption. “We did this by biosynthesizing a novel Vitamin B12 molecule that was labelled with a ‘stable isotope’ of carbon 13C. This, as the name implies, is stable (not radioactive and therefore does not emit any harmful radiation) and is therefore safe for human use,” she said.


The molecule that the team of researchers synthesized, is a form of Vitamin B12 called 13 C-cyanocobalamin. This (cyanocobalamin) is one of the commercial vitamin B12 supplements that are prescribed. “We then used this to measure vitamin B12 absorption in humans, and also defined a new mathematical or pharmacokinetic model for this purpose. This test is safe and can now be used in a clinic and in any age group safely without radiation concerns,” Dr. Devi explained.

“This is a major development in nutrition that also changed the daily requirement of Vitamin B12 in a recently published report by the ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition for Indians,” she said. Anura V. Kurpad, senior author of the paper and chair of the ICMR Expert Committee on Nutrient Requirement of Indians, said the earlier thinking was that dietary vitamin B12 was 100% absorbed.

As the researchers’ team led by Dr. Devi had measured this at about 50% absorption, Dr. Kurpad said: “This effectively doubled the daily dietary requirement from 1 microgram to 2 microgram/day. Since Vitamin B12 is only available from animal source foods, it is critical to ensure that an adequate intake of milk or eggs/meat is available in the diet.”

From a therapeutic viewpoint when treating the deficiency, the study also showed that the absorption of Vitamin B12 was very tightly regulated, in that it could not go above a certain amount. Hence, a high intake does not necessarily mean more absorption, she added.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

The Hindu News



High intake of refined grains linked to higher risk of heart disease and death

Mar 01,2021

High intake of highly processed (refined) grains is associated with higher risk of heart disease and death than whole (unrefined) grains, finds a study published by The BMJ today.

Cereal grains, such as oats, rice, barley and wheat make up around 50% of daily caloric intake across the world and up to 70% in low and middle income countries, particularly in Africa and South Asia.

Whole grains tend to be higher in dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids than refined grains. Previous studies have shown that higher whole grain intake is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death, but no clear associations were found for refined grains.

To address this evidence gap, researchers set out to assess the association between intakes of refined grains, whole grains, and white rice with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and mortality.

Their findings are based on data for 137,130 people aged 35 to 70 years across 21 low, middle and high income countries who had no history of heart disease and were taking part in the Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study.

They examined white rice separately from all other refined grains because more than 60% of the PURE population live in Asia where rice is a staple food.

Detailed information on participants' education, wealth, lifestyle and medical history was collected at the start of the study and validated food questionnaires were used to assess intakes of refined grains, whole grains, and white rice.

Deaths from cardiovascular causes or serious cardiovascular events including heart attack, stroke, and heart failure were then tracked over an average of 9.4 years

After taking account of other potentially influential factors, the researchers found that the highest category of intake of refined grains (at least 350 g or about 7 servings per day) was associated with a 27% higher risk of death and a 33% higher risk of serious cardiovascular events compared with the lowest category of intake (less than 50 g per day).

Higher intakes of refined grains were also associated with higher blood pressure, but no significant associations were found between intakes of whole grains or white rice and health outcomes.

This is an observational study, so can't establish cause, and the researchers point to some limitations, such as relying on recall for food questionnaires, which may have affected the accuracy of results.

However, with data from 21 countries across five continents, the researchers were able to analyse broad patterns of diet, meaning the results are likely to be robust and widely applicable to populations across the world.

As such, they suggest that, globally, a lower intake of refined products should be encouraged while promoting a higher intake of whole grains. "Reduction in quantity and improvement in quality of carbohydrate is essential for better health outcomes," they conclude.


Polypill along with aspirin cuts heart attacks and strokes by up to 40%: International study (TIPS-3)

Nov 13,2020

Heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular incidents can be cut by 20 to 40 percent through use of a polypill which combines three blood pressure and a lipid-lowering medications taken alone or with aspirin.

An international study of people with no previous heart disease or stroke, but at intermediate risk, found the polypill alone may reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, revascularization procedures (such as angioplasty or heart surgery), or other cardiovascular incidents by about 20 percent, and the combination of the polypill and aspirin may reduce those cardiovascular events by up to 40 percent.

“This is the start of a transformational approach to preventing heart disease. We could save millions of people from experiencing serious heart disease or stroke each year with effective use of the polypill and aspirin,” said Salim Yusuf, co-principal investigator for the study and a professor of medicine at McMaster University in Canada.

As the most common serious illness globally, cardiovascular diseases account for about 18 million deaths each year, with more than 80 percent of those in low-income and middle-income countries. More than 40 million people around the world are impacted by cardiovascular events each year if those who recover from a heart attack or stroke are included.

“A polypill is not only effective, it is likely to be cost-effective since it is based on using commonly used generic drugs,” said Prem Pais, co-principal investigator of the study and professor of St. John’s Medical College and Research Institute in Bangalore, India. “A polypill is convenient for patients to use as it combines several effective drugs in a single pill and is taken once a day, which would be expected to improve adherence.”

The study was conducted in 89 centres from nine countries and coordinated globally by the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI), a joint institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences. The Division of Clinical Research & Training (DCRT), St. Johns Research Institute was the National Co-ordinating Office in India.

“India contributed 2739 participants from 38 centres. Furthermore, investigators in India also participated in the TIPS-1 & TIPS-2 studies. Thus we from India played a significant role in the evaluation of the polypill”, said Dr. Denis Xavier, Professor of Dept of Pharmacology, St. Johns Medical College & Research Institute, Bangalore, National Co-ordinator & Co-PI for India.

“In addition to stopping smoking, the most modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, so we wanted to test a polypill along with aspirin, which has proven value in people with established vascular disease,” said Yusuf, who is executive director of PHRI and a cardiologist at Hamilton Health Sciences.

The study has been published in NEJM (Polypill with or without aspirin in persons without cardiovascular disease; Salim Yusuf, Philip Joseph, Antonio Dans, Denis Xavier, Courtney Christou, Preeti Girish, Freeda Xavier, Jackie Bosch, Prem Pais et al; New England Journal of Medicine; 2020/11/13; 384(3); 216-228) and the co-principal presented the study’s results at the 2020 American Heart Association scientific sessions.


Experts: Focus on Nutrition in First 1000 Days Most Critical to Fight Malnutrition

Sep 08,2020

The ministry of women and child development is all set to come out with a new set of composite national guidelines to address the issue of malnutrition in the next fortnight and set out a roadmap for states to develop a balanced diet to ensure that there is neither under-nutrition nor over - nutrition.

In the second of a series of webinars being organised to mark nutrition month, the WCD ministry on Tuesday brought focus on the criticality of investing in the first 1000 days of a child's life to prevent stunting and later life diseases.

While agreeing that the concerns over preventing "over - nutrition" were as critical as dealing with under-nutrition, WCD minister Smriti Irani said that the composite guidelines seek to address all these concerns and provide the roadmap for the right balance.

The webinar on Tuesday saw Professor AV Kurpad, former Head of Physiology, St John’s Medical College shared that a new nutrient requirement book is being written by ICMR and National Institute of Nutrition where they have come up with a new population metric defined as the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR). “It is very different from the value used up to now called the Recommended Dietary Requirement. EAR is the value you should feed the population,” Professor Kurpad said. He also raised the issue of overeating of nutrients which can have adverse health impacts.

The WCD minister sought to know from him if they have enough scientific evidence to guide the ministry in the new guidelines so that they can find a balance between the EAR and RDA. Kurpad responded in the affirmative and he went on to explain that “it is important to focus on the first two years to stop the child from faltering and that is where a balanced mix of Take-Home Rations become very important.” He also advised that normal, affordable, diverse home-cooked diets are adequate to meet nutritional requirements.

Dr H.P.S. Sachdev, professor of paediatrics and clinical epidemiology also stressed that nutrition from the time of conception to two years of age is crucial for a good start to a productive life. He also cautioned against over-nourishing or over-feed a child as it can make them vulnerable in the long run to diseases like diabetes and hypertension in adulthood.


Click Here to view the Webinar conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development on 8th September, 2020. 


Experts: Focus on Nutrition in First 1000 Days Most Critical to Fight Malnutrition


FSSAI notifies reconstitution of scientific committee, scientific panels

Mar 06,2020

FSSAI has notified the reconstitution of the scientific committee (SC) and scientific panels (SPs), comprising experts from various fields of food safety sciences.

The country’s apex food regulator has reconstituted its scientific committee and 21 scientific panels, including biological hazards, contaminants in food chain, fish and fisheries products, food additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food, functional foods, nutraceuticals, dietetic products and other similar products, nutrition and fortification, genetically-modified organisms and foods, labelling and claims/advertisements, packaging, method of sampling and analysis, pesticide residues, antibiotic residues, cereals, pulses and legumes and their products (including bakery), fruits and vegetables and their products (including dried fruits and nuts), spices and culinary herbs, meat and meat products, including poultry, milk and milk products, oils and fats, sweets, confectionery, sweeteners, sugars and honey, water (including flavoured water) and beverages (non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages).

Each panel has 11 members, while the scientific committee will have 27 members including chairperson of each scientific panel on board and six other members, including Dr Anura Kurpad, professor, department of physiology, St. John’s Medical College, Bengaluru; Dr Chindi Vasudevappa, vice-chancellor, NIFTEM; Dr G S Totega, additional director general, ICMR, New Delhi; Dr K S M S Raghavarao, director, CFTRI, Mysuru, Dr S Ayyappan, chancellor, Central Agricultural University, Imphal, and Dr Sanjay Kumar, Institute of Himalyan Bioresource Technology, Palampur.

FSSAI, in this regard, issued an order saying that the order was issued following the due process of inviting EOIs (expressions of interest) for filling of various posts of its SPs and the SC with suitable individuals as members. 

The tenure for a member of the SC and SPs is fixed for a maximum period of three years.

FSSAI notifies reconstitution of scientific committee, scientific panels


International Nutrition Course Focuses on Isotopic Techniques for the First Time

Feb 18,2020

Scientists, nutrition and health professionals from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Uganda gathered at the St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI) in Bangalore, India, from 13 – 24 January 2020 for the 11th edition of the Bangalore Boston Nutrition Collaborative (BBNC). For the first time since its inception, BBNC held designated sessions on the use of stable isotope techniques in nutrition, benefitting students, associate professors, research officers and data analysts.

The BBNC was established in 2010 as a partnership between nutrition scientists at SJRI, which is an IAEA Collaborating Centre in nutrition, the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and Tufts University Schools of Medicine and Nutrition in Boston for nutrition research and training. Since then, more than 500 scientists have been trained.

Cornelia Loechl, Head of the Nutritional and Health-related Environmental Studies Section at the IAEA, highlighted the use of stable isotope techniques for the assessment of body composition, exclusive breastfeeding, total vitamin A body pools, iron absorption, energy expenditure, environmental enteric dysfunction and in cancer. She presented the role of the IAEA in nutrition programmes, and course participants had the opportunity to get hands-on experience in the laboratories of the Department of Nutrition at SJRI.

“The inclusion of stable isotope technology instructions – both lectures and hands on experience – in this year’s course has allowed attendees to apply these methods to the many nutritional problems they are tackling at their home institutions,” said course co-director Christopher Duggan, a Professor at the Departments of Nutrition and Global Health and Population at HSPH. “In countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, these approaches are critical to address acute and chronic nutritional diseases.”

The courses at BBNC are designed to explore the role of nutritional factors and health outcomes and to provide substantive knowledge in topic areas related to public health nutrition research. The courses aim to enhance methodological skills in areas of nutritional, infectious and chronic diseases epidemiology and integrate research findings to inform public health recommendations as well as programme design and implementation.

“The BBNC trains the participants in planning research from lab to field,” said Rebecca Kuriyan Raj, Head of the Division of Nutrition at SJRI and course co-director. “We are happy to offer this opportunity to IAEA project counterparts from different regions in the future.”

This course presents a unique opportunity in the future for participants in IAEA nutrition projects to enhance their skills in nutrition research methods, gain preliminary insight into stable isotope techniques and understand their multiple applications by visiting the facilities at SJRI, Loechl said.

St. John's Research Institute was designated as the first IAEA Collaborating Centre in Nutrition in 2010. The designation for another four years was approved in late 2019. With a focus on nutrition as well as on infectious and lifestyle-related diseases, the Institute uses stable isotope techniques for nutrition-related research and programme evaluation.

International Nutrition Course Focuses on Isotopic Techniques for the First Time


Protein rendering radiation resistance in cervical cancer found

Oct 19,2019

The protein can be developed as a predictive biomarker

Arathi Sekhar (name changed) found herself bleeding even after menopause. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer and advised radiation and chemotherapy, together. Some of her tumours were found to increase after radiotherapy. Her treatment was stepped up and she is getting better. Not all late stage cervical cancer patients get so lucky.

Cervical cancer patients are treated with a combination of radiation and chemo therapy. The early stage disease show very good response but the in later stages of the disease some patients fail to respond to therapy.

Protein identified

Sweta Srivastava and her team studied the molecular pathway in the tumours and found that some cells of the tumour, which are resistant to therapy, have increased expression of a particular protein (RhoC) which leads to enhanced DNA repair in cells exposed to radiation. Similarly, ROCK2 is another molecule that gets over expressed because of irradiation and protects tumour cells against radiation. The results were published in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research.

They conducted in vitro studies with tumour cells and found that treatment with an inhibitor (in this case an antibody) causes decreased expression of ROCK2 resulting in decreased DNA repair thus making the cells more sensitive to radiation. The inhibitor molecule was found after much trial and error. All the work was done in the St. Johns Medical College and Hospital, Bengaluru.

The presence of RhoC and ROCK2 in the tumour cells made the scientists suggest that the two molecules can be developed as predictive biomarkers for radiation response in cervical cancer. Additionally, following future advanced studies, these molecules have the potential to be used as targeted therapy leading to changed treatment of late stages of cervical cancer.

“Although this class of molecules has been studied in other cancers, the findings of this study will help in moving a step further in personalizing treatment of cervical cancer as well as help in identifying radiotherapy-resistant phenotypes prior to initiation of treatment for the very common cancer,” says Dr. Uma Maheswari Krishnaswamy, Professor and Head, Department of Pulmonary Medicine at St. Johns National Academy of Health Sciences, Bengaluru. She is not an author of the paper.

Protein rendering radiation resistance in cervical cancer found


Heart attacks rising among young adults

Aug 22,2019

A 16-year-old first PUC student, in Bengaluru, recently had to check into a cardiac facility after suffering from chest discomfort. Ranjan S (name changed) was taken aback when the doctors informed him that he was treated for a heart attack. This happened despite him maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a no-cigarette case history.

Yes, it’s a worrisome example, because his is not a one-off case. Of late, Bengaluru’s cardiologists have recorded an increase in the number of Premature Coronary Artery Disease (PCAD) cases among people in the younger age group. The PCAD registry, maintained by Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research, has disclosed that over the past two years, over 2,400 cases of heart attack have been recorded among patients under the age of 40. Out of these, 1,250 fresh heart attack cases have been reported among patients below 35 years. Is our heart giving up on us earlier? A Bengaluru-based cardiologist is taking stock of this disturbing trend with the help of what is touted to be the country’s first heart attack registry.

Not the regular heart attacks
Dr Rahul Patil — Interventional Cardiologist and Head of the Premature Heart Disease Division at Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences — who is spearheading the study points out that these heart attacks are not the regular ones that usually occur when a person is in his or her 50s or 60s. “The younger age group displays a different set of triggers. Of these cases, hardly 12-13% are caused due to diabetes or hypertension. There’s a huge difference between the risk factors in the age groups,” says Dr Rahul, stressing that the registry will now help to study the pattern and the risk factors closely.

Young age heart attack comes with no warning signs
Apparently, heart attacks at a younger age come without any signs of warning. “Over the past two years, we have had nearly 111 deaths among patients below the age of 40, mainly because there were no symptoms of a potential heart problem,” Dr Rahul further explains.

Cases have been linked to air pollution and dietary patterns
Yes, it is not only because of bad lifestyle and stress. Pollution and high-carb diet might also have a critical role to play in the upsurge of heart attacks. “More than what young adults eat, it’s the timing that can cause more health issues. Late lunch and dinner, with huge portions of carbs and meats is a worrying eating pattern,” the expert warns. Statistics show that drivers comprise nearly 24% of the heart attack cases, followed by professionals who spend almost an hour commuting in peak traffic every day. “The angiographic profile of these patients showed high levels of haemoglobin (as high as 18-19 g/dl). However, we need to do a proper population study to have a better understanding of these trends,” he adds.

The PCAD Registry will help find answers
The registry, which is said to be the world’s largest PCAD registry, is expected to help find a link between heart attacks and their causes. “We are working with St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI) and the Health and Environment Alliance study the causes and find solutions,” sums up Dr Rahul.

Heart attacks rising among young adults


Foul air causing early onset of heart disease

Aug 16,2019

Bengaluru’s air pollution goes far beyond merely affecting the lungs and is widely causing heart attacks, research has revealed.

One of the hospitals in the city, Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research, has dealt with nearly 2,200 heart attack cases in the below-40 age group in the past two years.

These patients do not have the usual risk factors like smoking, obesity and diabetes, and doctors believe air pollution has caused blocks in their arteries.

Dr Rahul Patil, head, Premature Heart Diseases Clinic, Jayadeva told DH: “When we studied the 2,200 mostly young patients, we saw that 40% had no other risk factor. A common connection, however, was that these were mostly people who spent long hours on the road.”

Researchers at Jayadeva have joined hands with the St John’s Research Institute and National Centre for Human Genetics to spread awareness on the risk of heart attacks among those exposed to air pollution for a long time. The patients included software professionals spending over an hour on the road and cab drivers.

Over the past five years, the hospital saw a 22% jump in patients below 40. The youngest among them was a 16-year-old student in December.

The Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences began tracking the cases of youngsters suffering heart attacks for the past two years. Dr Patil said the institute now has the largest exhaustive registry of heart patients below 40. He said even the American Heart Association has declared air pollution as a reason for heart attacks.

Over 102 of the 2,200 patients have died. Dr Patil attributed the high mortality to the way heart attacks strike young patients. “Among adults, it presents itself with pain that lasts over a few days. Those above 40 also tend to have routine tests done, where this is picked up. In 99% of the youngsters we saw, there was no such warning sign at all. It was sudden.” Dr Patil said young patients need special care and counselling since they have to live with stent or medication for life.

Techies Suffering

Jayadeva is teaming up with the European non-profit Health and Environmental Alliance to study the effects of pollution among techies in Bengaluru.

The group is looking to conduct a non-invasive research on techies spending more than an hour in traffic in areas that report high air pollution levels.

Foul air causing early onset of heart disease


Why States need strategies to address anaemic condition in women

Jul 17,2019

Vitamin, B-6, B-12 and C supplements can largely prevent anaemia

Anaemia is a major public health concern in India, with over 51% of Indian women in the age group of 15 to 49 suffering from this condition. While the country is headed to reduce anaemia cases by half by 2025, it is of utmost important to address the various nutritional and non-nutritional factors responsible for its high burden.

Deficiency of various micronutrients can lead to anaemia. However, Iron deficiency has been primarily held responsible. Consequently, the various initiatives mounted over years to deal with the condition have invariably focused on iron supplementation.

A new study that analyzed data from two national surveys has highlighted the need to focus on other contributing factors also, beside Iron supplementation and fortification of food articles.

"Diets in India are not only deficient in iron. Several other important nutrients, like folate and B12 are also missing. These too contribute to anaemia. Therefore, it is illogical to address the problem through single nutrient fortification”, argues Dr. Anura V.Kurpad, leader of the study team and Professor at St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, Bengaluru, while speaking to India Science wire.

For this study, researchers analysed data on anaemia in women along with their socio-demographic profiles from National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-2016) and on household nutrient and food consumption pattern from the National Sample Survey.

The analysis suggests that only 8 out of 100 anaemia patients can be cured of the condition by supplementing 10 mg of iron per day in their diet. Iron supplementation will not be of much use in several states - Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh – where iron intake in diets is already high. In Manipur anaemia can be decreased by 12.4% with iron intake, while the reduction will be only 0.3% in Uttar Pradesh. The data suggests that national per-capita daily iron intake was 14.1 mg/d with lowest in Manipur (6.8 mg/d) and highest in Rajasthan (21.7 mg/d).

Throwing light on the role of other nutritional factors in preventing anaemia, scientists found that if diets are further supplemented with Vitamin B-12 (two micrograms per day) and vitamin C (40 milligrams per day), the count of anaemia in the country can be further reduced by 1.5%.

Besides, they found that factors such as open defecation, and unprotected drinking water supply showed higher association with anaemia than Iron intake. This points towards the need to address developmental concerns to bring down anaemia cases in country.

Cautioning against over-emphasizing on iron supplementation and fortification of food, Dr. Kurpad noted, “the tolerable upper limit for intake of Iron is 45 mg/day. If we eat two or three fortified staples, then one could be at the risk of exceeding the permissible level. Over the long term, this could prove harmful. Among other things, it could adversely alter the concentration of healthy microbes in stomach”.

“Iron deficiency is not the only cause of anemia and there are many other causes like deficiency of vitamins B6 and B12, folate and mineral deficiency like copper, magnesium, presence of chronic inflammation in the body and many more,” commented Dr. Umesh Kapil, Professor at Delhi-based Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, who was not connected with the study.

Besides Dr. Kurpad, the research team included Sumathi Swaminathan, Santu Ghosh, Harshpal S Sachdev and Tinku Thomas from St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences and Jithin Sam Varghese from Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research, New Delhi. They have published a paper on their work in The Journal of Nutrition (India Science Wire).

Why States need strategies to address anaemic condition in women


Walk the Walk - number of steps matter, but keep active all day - by Prof. Anura Kurpad

Jun 23,2019

10,000 steps a day has been the norm to keep oneself hale and hearty. Studies now even suggest 15,000 a day, given the trend of long sedentary working hours. But merely increasing the numbe of steps alone doesn't ensure real fitness.

A whole lot of factors are dovetailed into a scientific regimen for physical and mental fitness. Along with walking, what helps maintain the brain, heart and muscles to stay healthy are one's own behaviour and the ability to optimise energy intake.

The article by Pontzer raises important and interesting points.  It is very relevant to India, where activity levels in urban populations are worrying low.  In one report in the journal Nature, this was measured at about 4000 steps per day.  So the bar of 10,000 steps is a reasonable ask, for an approximate doubling of activity.  Bust is it enough? Will it specifically work for weight loss? Here is an important message - don’t worry about the body weight - just being active is good for the heart, muscles and brain.

It is a reasonable hypothesis that Pontzer argues, that for good health, we might eventually be setting the bar too low for the target number of steps per day (it might not be 10,000 steps). The origin of the magic number of 10,000 steps per day for good health is mysterious, but it is a convenient way to translate walking activity.  Let’s take walking, for say, an hour per day.  There is the apocryphal saying that ‘a walking man can cover a distance of one league in an hour’.  A league is very roughly about 5 Km, and assuming a step distance of half a metre for a normal height Indian, will required about 10,000 steps/hour. For those with even shorter steps, the number is higher of course. But does the shorter person with more steps per hour spend more energy? And if one runs this distance, what happens? Many complexities here but eventually, the number of steps means little in terms of the energy spent.  Walking on difficult terrain, or up a slope is more tiring, so more energy is spent. The step count tells us nothing about this exertion.  That said, in a simple framework, it is advantageous to emulate more active lifestyles (that require 15,000 steps per day or more) relating to health and longevity. Set the bar higher.

But questions still remain.  The big one: Will stepping more help me lose weight? That answer is never simple. Let us start with the question of effort, translating into energy spent.  Does it take more to transport a heavier body for the same number of steps?  Logic says yes.  This means that a heavier person will benefit more from the walking, and should spend more energy; and lose more weight.  But more of that later - the weight loss story is complicated.  Before that, let us look at how we rate effort and activity in physiology and nutrition.  The energy spent (heat) in physical effort is difficult to measure, but can be calculated more easily from the air breathed (oxygen consumption) during an activity.  A metric for ‘effort’ can be derived by dividing the ‘energy spent during the activity ‘by’ the energy spent rest (also called basal)’. This metric (also called the physical activity ratio or PAR; the term ‘met’ is also used) would therefore increase as the effort of the activity increased; for example, walking at normal speed would give a value of about 3-4, and running would give a value of 6. Dietitians use this value to calculate how much energy you need based on your reported activity. They take the PAR of all reported activities in a day and multiply it into the energy spent at rest (called resting energy expenditure, measured in calories) to obtain the required daily energy intake. So, if the average PAR for the day was 1.5, then multiplying this into the resting energy expenditure (say 1,000 calories) would give an energy requirement of 1,500 calories/day. But note the point of interest here - the PAR is a ratio, where the body size is a factor in both the numerator and the denominator.  Body weight effectively cancels out in the ration, meaning that the PAR should be independent of body weight. Dietitians love this point - a single PAR value for any given activity ca be used for people of all sizes, reducing their need to look up PAR tables. But things are never that simple, and the theoretical independence of body weight for the PAR is now proving wrong.  Careful measurements have shown the PAR actually increases as the body size increases, for a range of activities. This means a larger person would spend relatively more energy in the same activity as a smaller person.  There is also an efficiency of movement; for those habitually doing some form of labour or activity, over time, there is an economy of movement, or efficiency, that results in a lower PAR. This is adaptation. How often have we heard the refrain - “I lost weight initially when I started exercising and/or dieting, but now my weight loss is zero?” As body size decreases, the energy spent (PAR) in the effort also decreases, asking for the effort bar to be raised. In crude translation, increase the steps. So does the step count target help those lose weight? Yes and no; it depends on the exertion effort for the steps, and initially could help in a small way towards weight loss. Complex enough? Wait, there is the elephant in the room - our behaviour. 

Behaviour is mysterious and not always predictable. As an example, let’s take the discovery of contraceptives: this protective method actually increased risky sexual behaviour.  That was an unintended consequence. The number of steps (and little gadgets that measure them) are similar in principle.  If you spent an hour a day stepping up to the golden requirement of 10,000 steps, ask yourself: what did you do for the rest of the day?  Did you feel ‘protected’ by getting to your goal? Did you then become a couch potato for the rest of the day (risky stuff indeed - nibbling and grazing all the while) - you felt protected, remember? So think about the consequences of this behaviour.  Sitting instead of standing, means that considerable postural effort (that spends energy) against gravity is lost, with a lower total energy expenditure. You are throwing away the good you achieved in walking.  So, do not think that the more you walk, the more your daily energy expenditure will automatically be. There was an excellent experiment published in CellPress that actually showed this (Pontzer again).  Measurements of daily physical activity (by activity monitors) were compared with measurements of total energy expenditure.  Up to a point, these measurements matched - meaning, as activity went up, so did daily energy expenditure.  Beyond this point, as the daily activity increased (as measured by the activity monitor), the relation of activity with total energy expenditure went flat - it plateaued out.  It is therefore not a ‘given’, that total energy expenditure for the day faithfully increases as physical activity increases (Pontzer called this an additive model: activity energy expenditure adds to other expenditures). It does not work that way.  In practice, the total energy expenditure was ‘constrained’ or kept down such that it remained in a fairly narrow range.  The biological reason for this is not fully known. It may be due to adaptations in the way the body allocates energy to other non-muscle based tasks, like those relevant to the activities of the organs for example. This is complex, but easier to surmise is a simple behavioural change in the way we might respond to increasing physical activity. We might have more rest periods in between, particularly sitting or lying down, which can reduce daily energy expenditure. So, as we increase energy expenditure by stepping or running, we also decrease it by ‘vegging out’. OK - we are equating steps to an activity monitor’s output in the Pontzer study, and that is reasonable, but the point coming out here is this: is a single metric of 10,000 or 15,000 steps going to be that relevant to body weight maintenance or even weight loss?  No, not unless you are active in all dimensions of a day. So, should your lifestyle aspirations become unidimensional? The short answer is, no, it should not.  If what you think is a helpful intervention becomes your sole goal, you might be disappointed in terms of your weight. Remember - the body weight should not be the target here - think of cardiovascular, muscular and mental health as well. 

So it looks like the number of steps is not a panacea for weight loss.  What else is there, if weight loss is the goal? The answer probably lies in the energy intake, rather than the energy output. Our food environment is now so adverse for weight maintenance - the availability of cheap ultra-processed foods (they can be remarkably energy dense) is increasing. Eating out in restaurants or fast food outlets is also simply a way of packing away about 1000 calories per meal (more than half the daily requirement of a sedentary person), as a study in India showed.   One hears (some with nostalgia) about the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the distant past, where intense hunting activity was followed by equally intense eating and then intense rest. Our lazy ‘inner ape’ calls the shots about our activity (Pontzer’s words), harking to our ape relatives “who are impressively sedentary, resting and sleeping for 18 hours a day”.  Well, they ate foods that were pretty much poorly digested, and certainly low in energy density.  If they had access to our energy dense foods, they might well be extinct. Let us circle back to the arguments above: without restraint in eating, and a conscious avoidance of ultra-processed food (now well-defined on the internet), simply stepping up your daily steps is not an answer to maintaining or losing weight in a sustained weight.

Finally, for whom should we set the bar at 10,000 or 15,000 steps?  We take it for granted that the step target is independent of age. I think it is inconceivable to ask the elderly people to be so active, without risk (my active ‘inner squirrel’ says - that’s nuts!).  If one has always lived a good and active life, perhaps these goals are possible at advancing ages.  But starting out - one needs (diet-wise) and active life, perhaps these goas are possible at advancing ages. But starting out at any age - one needs to ease into what one can do.  Running for two hours a day?  That is very good if you can, but don’t be overambitious: start small and ramp up. Make sure that the running path is good, free of dogs that chase your inner squirrel and of footpath bikers, with breathable air.  If not, weigh the risks you take, and aim as high as you can without encountering other risks.  Just be active all day. Sit less. Don’t chase magic bullets. Eat moderately. Eat right. Eat minimally processed foods. And yes, walk more.

Walk the Walk, number of steps matters, but keep active all day


Clearing the air in India’s Silicon Valley

Jun 04,2019

India, one of the world’s fastest growing major economies, has its own Silicon Valley in the city of Bengaluru. Home to information technology companies and multinationals such as Google, Apple, Intel, IBM, Cisco and Adobe, the city provides careers for over a third of India’s 2.5 million IT professionals.

As in most countries, rapid economic growth has come at the cost of serious and life-threatening air pollution. A staggering 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities are in India.

Air pollution in India leads to at least 1.2 million premature deaths each year and the country has one of the world’s highest exposure levels to PM2.5 fine particulate pollution. More than 77 per cent of India’s population is exposed to air pollution levels that are higher than the national ambient air quality standards.

In the north of India, urban pollution levels have risen dramatically because of the burning of coal in cooking stoves, forest fires and diesel fumes from transport. Air quality is so poor that the deteriorating conditions in the cities further south have all but been ignored, even though air pollution regularly exceeds safe levels. However, people actually living in cities such as Bengaluru have noticed the recent decline in air quality. IT professionals have cited their concern about air quality as a reason to move away from what was once famously celebrated as “the garden city”.

Doctors at the Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Lakeside Hospital have seen an alarming rise in heart problems in people under 40 and a 25 per cent rise in asthma cases in children under 14. Cardiologists and pulmonologists indicate that the rising air pollution levels are most likely responsible for these increases.

In April 2019, the Healthy Air Coalition was launched in Bengaluru, a collaboration of health professionals, researchers and health groups. Allied with Unmask My City, they installed 15 air quality monitors across the city. Another 25 monitors will be installed in June.

Prashanth Thankachan, Researcher at St. John’s Research Institute and Medical College notes, “It’s essential that there is better monitoring of air quality in Bengaluru, to improve our understanding of individual exposure patterns in the city.”

The launch received overwhelming support from Bengaluru’s city authorities and politicians with permission granted to install several air monitors in public health centres. Two months prior, in February 2019, Bengaluru joined the World Health Organization, UN Environment, Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the World Bank’s BreatheLife campaign, with the Mayor proclaiming, “Our dream is the development of the whole city in a way that is sustainable and non-polluting, that will increase the liveability of Bengaluru for residents, and that will give other fast-growing cities examples of solutions to urban challenges."

Helena Molin Valdes, Head of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Secretariat commends the collaborative effort underway by civil society and public officials. “Air quality monitoring data is a critical piece of the puzzle—information on specific pollutants and sources of these pollutions provides data to better inform decision makers to help them select solutions that will benefit both people and the planet.”

Bengaluru, a megacity of 8.4 million people and the second-fastest growing city in India, is in the process of planning its growth and development strategy to 2031, one that includes a significant shift to travel by public transport and electric vehicles, an advanced waste segregation and collection system, an expanded mass rapid transit metro system, and placing a greater priority on the comfort and safety of cyclists and pedestrians—developments with potential co-benefits for air pollution control.

As a next step, the coalition will provide health expertise to inform this first city action plan on clean air, which has just been published for consultation. In addition, several research projects are planned to determine the extent of health impacts of poor air quality on Bengaluru’s residents, particularly on children.

As the sources of air pollution in Bengaluru are mainly local—transport, waste burning and construction—it may be possible to cut air pollution faster and more deeply than has been possible so far in the cities of the north such as Dehli.

Technological advance underpins economic growth. To date we have not been able to uncouple growth from environmental damage, but professions providing technical advances in clean renewable energy and transport, energy efficiency, IT and sustainable agriculture and forestry will be the careers of the future. World Environment Day reminds us that, as we pursue technical advances, we need to protect the health of our planet to protect human health.

Clearing the air in India’s Silicon Valley


Proteins hold key to healthy babies

Apr 27,2019

“Eating for two” is a common way women look at nourishment all through pregnancy. Now a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that a diet with relatively more protein is needed during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy for the growth and development of the baby.

To accurately estimate the daily protein requirement in pregnant Indian women, a whole-body potassium counting instrument was built at St. John’s Research Institute in Bengaluru, with financial support from the Centre’s Department of Biotechnology.

This facility was used to arrive at estimates of protein requirements in 38 urban, well-nourished, middle class Indian pregnant women, who had normal pregnancies and delivered babies of an average birth weight of three kg.

Month by month
For a gestational weight gain of 10 kg, pregnant Indian women should eat an additional 7.6 grams and 17.6 grams of protein per day during the second (3 - 6 months) and third trimester (6-9 months) respectively, the researchers found.

Rebecca Kuriyan Raj, head of the division of nutrition at St. John’s Research Institute, who is the lead author of the study, said that in conjunction with the energy requirement during the same periods of pregnancy (about an additional 350 kCal/day), it is clear that the extra food that a pregnant woman must eat should be high quality, in terms of its protein content such as milk and milk products, dals, rice and dal blends, eggs, fish and meat.

“It is important to meet these additional protein requirements during pregnancy directly from the diet, rather than to use high protein supplements, except in special situations where the diet is not able to meet the requirements for protein,” Prof. Raj said.

The Centre’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme provides supplementary nutrition services for children (6 months - 6 years) and pregnant and lactating women.

As a part of the service, food supplements of 600 calories and 18-20 grams of protein/day are provided in the form of micro nutrient fortified food and/or take home ration to the pregnant women.

“The amount of 600 calories provided may, however, be high for some women and if the pregnant woman does not eat the entire amount allotted to her, it is likely that her protein intake may not be adequate and those requirements will not be met,” Prof. Raj said.

“Rather than focussing on large amounts of cereals and calories, it is important to include combinations of high protein foods such as milk, dal and egg in the meals provided to the pregnant women. This can be considered for future programmes,” she added.

Proteins hold key to healthy babies


Powering the Personal Health Record: Catalysts and Barriers in India

Apr 12,2019

On April 3rd, the India Digital Health Net (IDHN), a multidisciplinary research and development initiative established to support an Application Programming Interface-enabled (API) federated health data architecture in India, convened a workshop in New Delhi to learn from the several initiatives across the country that are building components of what may ultimately become India’s health tech grid.  The workshop was organized with support from the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute and the Asia Center. Dr. Satchit Balsari (Harvard Medical School and Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights) and Professor Tarun Khanna (Harvard Business School) served as co-chairs of the event.

Participants included key research and healthcare institutions across the entire delivery system, including from the state governments of Gujarat and Rajasthan, St. John’s Research Institute (Bangalore), iSPIRT, Dell, Piramal Swasthya, OHUM, Tata Memorial Hospital, UNICEF, Argusoft, and several others.

Powering the Personal Health Record
Dr. Balsari started the day’s proceedings by outlining the rationale for a Personal Health Record (PHR) and the opportunity for India to reimagine how health data can be securely accessed for the benefit of patients and providers. Following his remarks, a diverse set of stakeholders presented their work in understanding the current architecture.  Kiran Anandampillai, core volunteer from iSPIRT and technology advisor at the Government of India’s National Health Authority, discussed how the foundational digital building blocks that will enable health information exchange do not currently exist in India, and will need to be built.

Sunita Nadhumani (Dell) walked participants through the efforts by Dell to support the Non-communicable Disease program in Telangana under the Ayushman Bharat program. Dr. Jayanti Ravi (Government of Gujarat) led the team that described the architecture used to share health information in Gujarat using the ImTECHO app. The team from the Piramal Swasthya Tribal Health Program shared how they used mobile medical vans and telemedicine to provide health services to underserved populations in remote areas of the country.

Udai Kumar from OHUM and Dr. Avtar Singh Dua presented the architecture of the Integrated Health Management System (IHMS) in Rajasthan. The IHMS focus is on curative care, but has also been designed for use across all levels from primary care to tertiary-level hospitals.

In his keynote address, Rahul Matthan (Trilegal) outlined the key aspects of privacy jurisprudence and its implications for the design of the PHR architecture. Matthan remarked that innovation in the space of health data exchange must run a legal and regulatory gauntlet given the lack of a streamlined policy framework to allow for health data exchange.

St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI) and the National Cancer Grid outlined nascent proof of concept projects that their organizations were undertaking. SJRI described their prototypical efforts at developing a EHR ‘lites’ - Electronic Health Records for small and mid-sized health centers that are easy to deploy and customize. Dr. Manju Sengar (National Cancer Grid) provided a clinician’s perspective on the health data exchange using the PHR, and emphasized that health technology systems should be designed in a manner so as to not increase time commitments per consultation given the high patient loads seen at institutions like Tata Memorial Hospital.

The workshop concluded with an exploration of collaborative work between the invited entities to accelerate current technical and regulatory efforts to build the proposed prototypes.

Powering the Personal Health Record: Catalysts and Barriers in India


To combat air pollution, environment groups set up air quality monitoring devices in Bengaluru

Apr 07,2019

With this, Bengaluru became the first Indian city to participate in the global BreatheLife campaign to combat air pollution.

A coalition of like-minded environment groups held an inaugural function in Bengaluru on Friday, making it the first Indian city to participate in the global BreatheLife campaign. An initiative by the World Health Organisation, UN Environment, Climate and Clean Air Coalition, BreatheLife campaign aims to mobilise citizens to bring air pollution to safe levels by 2030, and has a network of 55 cities, regions and countries worldwide.

Kicking off the campaign in Bengaluru, D Randeep, BBMP's Additional Commissioner for Public Health, along with the 'Healthy Air Coalition' of European non-profit Health & Environment Alliance (HEAL), and Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA), announced the setting up of 40 air quality monitoring units at different places in the city. Of these, 15 are already functional.

“We are happy to support initiatives that improve air quality and enhance the quality of life in the city. Bengaluru is the first major Indian city to join the global BreatheLife Campaign, in collaboration with the WHO. We are committed to improve the air quality in the city. Access to data is key in understanding air quality and the availability of data on a centralised platform that is open to the public is the need of the hour. We have extended our support to the initiative and are keen to understand the necessary interventions possible at the local level for improving the health of the public,” said D Randeep at the event held at St John's Research Institute.

The network of 15 monitors already in place was set up by HEAL, in collaboration with St John’s Research Institute at Brigade Road, Mathikere, MS Ramaiah City, St John's Research Institute, BBMP Head Office, Bannerghatta Road, Indiranagar, Sarjapur, Ulsoor, Doddanekundi, Banashankari, Springfield Society, JC Road, Basavangudi and Srirampura Referral Hospital.

"Air pollution planning and mitigation in the country has been largely limited to improving, monitoring and data collection with very little emphasis on the associated health impacts,” said Aishwarya Sudhir, Air Quality Program Lead, HEAL. “If the data needs to translate into action, the health sector needs to step in as an important stakeholder in addressing the issue of air pollution in the city and we believe that, through this initiative, we will be able to prioritise public health and place it at the centre of air quality planning and mitigation in the city.”

Live air quality readings from each location which has a monitoring device are available at

The devices have been installed at a time vehicular population on Bengaluru roads is increasing. A 2012 study conducted by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) stated that there were 68 lakh vehicles on the city's roads. However, recent estimates suggest that the number of vehicles in Bengaluru has crossed 80 lakh. The Karnataka government's proposed elevated corridor project has also come under criticism from environmentalists and residents who say it facilitates personal vehicles over public transport.

To combat air pollution, environment groups set up air quality monitoring devices in Bengaluru


WHO calls for tighter monitoring of marketing of unhealthy foods to children

Mar 29,2019

U.N. agency has highlighted products high in salt, sugar and fat, alcohol and tobacco

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for tighter monitoring of digital marketing of unhealthy food products, especially those high in salt, sugar and fat, and alcohol and tobacco.

In a report titled ‘Monitoring and restricting the digital marketing of unhealthy products to children and adolescents’, WHO/Europe observes that while data on the digital lives of children are scarce, the time children spend online, including on social media, has grown steadily. There is therefore an increased risk of children’s exposure to digital marketing.

Set against the backdrop of “the advertising industry’s continued efforts to target children and adolescents on social media and difficult-to-track mobile devices”, WHO has urged countries worldwide to expedite the development and implementation of a set of tools for monitoring children’s exposure to digital marketing.

Monitoring the online advertising of unhealthy products to children is critical since heart disease, cancer, obesity and chronic respiratory disease are linked to smoking, alcohol abuse and the consumption of unhealthy food products. The onset of these diseases can be slowed or prevented if major risk factors and behaviours are addressed during childhood, the report’s authors suggest.

Influencing choices

Observing that childhood obesity was on the rise in India, Rebecca Kuriyan Raj, Professor and Head, Division of Nutrition in St. John’s Research Institute, said aggressive marketing strategies such as celebrity endorsements, use of cartoon characters, catchy slogans, and inclusion of free gifts were being adopted by companies to attract children and create brand consciousness. This influenced their purchase choices, she said.

Calling for a multidimensional approach to tackle the issue, Dr. Raj said along with regulations and policies, parents and schools had to be proactive and work as supportive “gatekeepers” by filtering the social influences on a child’s eating habits and access to digital media.

“With increase in the number of channels primarily viewed by children and easy availability of phones with Internet connectivity, there is a major concern for regulation of the quantity and quality of food advertisements and promotions,” she said.

Food labelling

“Just like the other public health interventions which successfully targeted reducing health risk behaviours such as tobacco and alcohol consumption, by focussing on changing the environment through policy and regulation, similar measures are needed for digital food marketing,” Dr. Raj said. “Labelling of food can also help in regulating unhealthy food,” she added.

Manoj Kumar Sharma, professor of clinical psychology at NIMHANS who heads the SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) clinic, said there was an urgent need to bring consciousness among viewers as well as policy makers about the marketing of food and beverages on online platforms.

“Children are an easy target for advertisers who adopt innovative and creative ways to market their products,” Dr. Sharma said. “Repeatedly watching the food product advertisements only increases the child’s urge to taste the products. This coupled with lack of physical activity and long hours of screen use are the major contributing factors in the increase of child obesity and other lifestyle issues related to obesity,” he said.

FSSAI proposal

A proposal mooted by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to regulate advertisements of high in fat, sugar, salt (HFSS) products aimed at children is yet to be finalised. FSSAI Chief Executive Officer Pawan Kumar Agarwal told The Hindu that the proposal was still in the “discussion” stage.

Sources said the FSSAI’s move to regulate advertisements of HFSS foods had faced push back from several companies involved in the manufacture of products such as chips, burgers and pizzas.

Earlier, an expert panel set up by the FSSAI had recommended a ban on the advertising of junk food on television channels aimed at child viewers and during kids’ shows on TV.

WHO calls for tighter monitoring of marketing of unhealthy foods to children


Are women in Karnataka consuming an excessive amount of iron?

Feb 21,2019

Study finds risk of inadequate or excess iron intake after fortification and supplementation in Karnataka is lesser than in other States

While the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) has pointed out that the overall prevalence of anaemia in Karnataka among women is 51.2%, the risk of inadequate or excess iron intake after fortification of a single food staple and supplementation is not more than 3%.

While the reduction of risk of dietary iron inadequacy is adequate, there is nonetheless a small proportion of women who would be at risk of excess intake and this is not ideal, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

According to the study, the revised estimate of 15 mg per day comes from transparent calculations that take into account iron loss and absorption by the body and the likely dietary intake varying across States.

An Indian Council of Medical Research expert group had in 2010 recommended a daily iron intake of 21mg per day for women of reproductive age — between 15 and 49 years. The current estimate of iron requirement is lower by 6 mg per day, meaning that the risk of dietary iron deficiency could be lower than previously thought. The study also compared these dietary risks with blood biomarker-based estimates of iron deficiency.

The study titled ‘Revisiting Dietary Iron Requirement and Deficiency in Indian Women: Implications for Food Iron Fortification and Supplementation’, has found that the average daily iron requirement for Indian women in the reproductive age is 15 mg and not 21 mg as currently assumed. It also calculated the risks and benefits of the current iron fortification and supplementation programs.

Based on these estimates, the team of researchers led by Anura V. Kurpad from St. John’s Research Institute, Bengaluru has cautioned that fortification coupled with supplementation may expose varying but significant proportions of women in 24 States or Union territories to the risk of an excessive iron intake. “The tolerable upper limit for women of reproductive age is 45 mg per day. Prolonged exposure to iron above this limit could put women at risk of experiencing symptoms such as gastric acidity, constipation, oxidative (physiological) stress or changes in their gut bacterial profile,” Dr. Kurpad told The Hindu. Under the revised estimate, the study predicts that the proportion of women exposed to excess iron under fortification and supplementation would range from 54% in Rajasthan and 15% in Uttar Pradesh to 2% in Bengal, 1% in Goa and Kerala, and 3% in Karnataka.

Dr. Kurpad, who also heads the Scientific Panel on Nutrition and Fortification at Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), said FSSAI has set standards for iron fortification of salt and rice, which are relevant in southern States, and salt and wheat which are relevant in northern States.

Each of these staples, when fortified, could provide an additional 10 mg of iron per day. “With Karnataka’s low risk of dietary iron inadequacy when just one staple food is fortified, along with the iron and folic acid (FA) supplementation being provided under the National Iron Plus Initiative (NIPI) for anaemia control program, it would suffice if just one of the two food staple commodities – either salt or rice – is fortified,” Dr. Kurpad said, stressing on the need for a “precision-based approach”.

However, gynaecologists in Karnataka said risk of excess overall iron intake is not an issue among women. Hema Divakar, Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI) ambassador to International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), attributed this to low absorption levels mainly because of flouride contamination in water, rampant problem of chronic intestinal inflammation in women and the habit of drinking tea and chewing supari (beetel nut).

Countering this, Dr. Anura Kurpad said, “We are talking about a habitual daily iron intake. When iron is given as a treatment, one balances the risks versus the benefit in severely anaemic women.”

Are women in Karnataka consuming an excessive amount of iron?


2 masala dosas enough to provide calories needed in a day

Dec 23,2018

The all-time favourite masala dosa may be deceiving you with its thin, golden look and humble potato filling. The aroma of melting butter and red chilli chutney would make you crave for one, but what probably only a few would know is that a single masala dosa provides almost half the calories a healthy human being requires in a day.

A four-continent, five-nation study has quantified the calorific content of masala dosas sold in Benglauru at 1,023 kcal, while the daily requirement of a human being stands at around 2,200 kcal. The findings were recently published in the British Medical Journal.

Led by Prof Rebecca Kuriyan, head of Nutrition and Lifestyle Clinic at St John's Medical College Hospital and Professor at St John's Research Institute, the study,conducted in 2017, measured the calorific content of frequently ordered meals from sitdown and fast-food restaurants from India, Brazil, China, Finland and Ghana.

As per Prof Rebecca, the recommended calorific content of a single meal should be less than 600 kcal. "This study showed over 94% of meals served at full service restaurants and 74% at fast-food restaurants contained over 600 kcal each," said Prof Rebecca. The research findings have been shared with FSSAI, urging the government to mandate restaurants mention calorific value of the food items sold.

2 masala dosas enough to provide calories needed in a day


With 21% of city kids overweight, obesity seems to be knocking on our doors too early

Dec 17,2018

Obesity a growing concern among city kids, warn experts

An annual health check done recently, across 83,000 school students, revealed that 21% of the city’s school-going children are either overweight or obese, thus throwing light on childhood obesity. Not just this, another study, The Pediatric Epidemiology, and Child Health (PEACH) study was conducted by the Division of Nutrition, St John’s Research Institute, to examine obesity and weight issues among children from urban schools in Bengaluru, from 2011 to 2016, found that the combined prevalence of overweight/obesity was 19.2% in girls and 16.7% in boys. “The PEACH study revealed that the waist circumference of our urban school children seem to be higher than those of the same age in western populations,” says Rebecca Kuriyan Raj, Professor at St John’s Medical College and St John’s Research Institute who was also the principal investigator of this study.

“It has been observed that many overweight students have lengthy tuition time, which means no time for any outdoor activity. Also, screen time for the school students ran up to more than two hours. So, the child is hardly getting up and walking.”

“Add to that the amount of junk food that is consumed by children. When the intake is more and the output is minimal, the positive energy balance of the body gets affected,” says Priyanka Rohatgi, Chief Clinical Dietician, HOD, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at a city hospital, who also adds that with the lack of open spaces, many times, children are not left with much of an option but to just sit back at home and play video games or watch TV or spend time on their gadgets. On an average, Priyanka says, she has at least six children walking in everyday with issues related to obesity.

“Sugar works like cocaine on your body and, therefore, kicks off a vicious cycle. Once you have a doughnut or a cupcake or an aerated drink, there’s a spike of sugar in your blood. And once that spike goes low, your body starts wanting more. Hence, it becomes crucial for parents to ensure that their children avoid them. Instead, they should have fresh home-cooked meals, fruits or nuts, and fluids. Try not to pack bread and jam in their lunch boxes,” she advises.

“Parents need to be role models and promote healthy eating, increased physical activity and decrease sedentary time,” says Rebecca. “Many times, parents themselves tend to body shame their children or blame child for being overweight, and complain about spending too much time on gadgets instead of playing outside. It makes sense for parents to first take a look at the kind of example they are setting for their child. Parents must also be more proactive and find activities that will keep their child engaged in a better way,” advises Priyanka. “Yes, there are times when kids need to start focusing on studying for longer hours. That said, they must ensure they get the required number of hours of sleep. They need at least 8-10 hours of sleep to get their hormone balances in place,” she says.

It is known that the riskiest fat is that which is settles in the abdomen area, which is what is called the dreaded paunch. “Potential factors that determine waist circumference of a child is decreased sleep, increased snacking, increased watching of TV and to some extent, genes,” says Rebecca. Experts suggest the following the 8, 5, 3, 2, 1 formula for better health. “This means, eight hours of sleep, five servings of fruits and vegetables, three litres of unsweetened beverage or fluid. Then, two hours or less screen time. And lastly one hour of compulsory outdoor exercise,” sums up Priyanka.

With 21% of city kids overweight, obesity seems to be knocking on our doors too early


Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

Dec 12,2018

Examination of popular meals in full service and fast food restaurants in 5 countries reveals large number of highly caloric options, possible contributor to global obesity.

A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of full service meals and 72 percent of fast food meals studied in five countries contained 600 calories or more.

The study also found that meals from fast food restaurants contained 33 percent fewer calories than meals from full service restaurants, suggesting fast food restaurants should not be singled out when exploring ways to address overeating and the global obesity epidemic. The study was published today in The BMJ.

"Fast food has been widely cited as an easy target for diet change because of its high calorie content; however, previous work by our team in the U.S. identified restaurant meals in general as an important target for interventions to address obesity," said first and co-corresponding author Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., senior scientist and director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. "Eating out is now common around the world, but it is important to keep in mind that it is easy to overeat when a large restaurant meal is likely to be only one of several meals and snacks consumed that day."

The study measured the calorie content of the most frequently ordered meals from 111 randomly selected full service and fast food restaurants in five countries--Brazil, China, Finland, Ghana and India--plus five worksite canteens in Finland where worksite canteens are common and often offer subsidized lunch options to support employee health. The data were compared with comparable existing information for U.S. restaurants.

Of note:

  • When compared to the data for the U.S., the mean restaurant calorie count was lower only in China, 719 vs. 1088 calories/meal.
  • On average, fast food meals contained fewer calories than full service meals, 809 vs. 1317 calories/meal.
  • The worksite canteens in Finland contained 25 percent fewer calories than the full service and fast food restaurants sampled in the country, 880 vs. 1166 calories/meal.
  • In all, 94 percent of meals from full service restaurants and 72 percent of fast food meals across all countries studied contained 600 calories or more. Three percent of meals from full service restaurants in four countries contained 2000 calories or more.

According to the World Health Organization, global obesity has nearly tripled in the last four decades. Identifying the factors which may lead to overeating, such as eating practices and environmental factors, may help with development of effective interventions. Research on restaurant meal sizes suggests recent public health recommendations to reduce restaurant meal servings to 600 calories may be one such tool for reducing weight gain and the prevalence of obesity worldwide.

"Current average portion sizes are high in relation to calorie requirements and recommendations globally," said Roberts. "As three meals and one or more snacks in between is common, including in the countries we studied, large restaurant portions should be examined further for their potential role in the global obesity epidemic."

Meals from Brazil, China, Ghana, Finland and India were collected and analyzed between 2014 and 2017. Meal components were analyzed by bomb calorimetry.

Limitations of the study include limiting samples to entrees and not the beverages, appetizers, and desserts that can be consumed with meals prepared away from home, which means that the measurements likely underestimate how large restaurant meals are. Most of the reference U.S. data was collected more than three years before the data for other countries. The researchers also assumed that the size of meals ordered and collected was the same as those supplied to diners inside the restaurants, and samples were collected in a single urban center within each country.

Roberts is also a professor of nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine. She is continuing her global obesity work with the International Weight Control Registry.


Senior and co-corresponding author is John R. Speakman Ph.D., D.Sc., professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Additional authors on this study are Sai Krupa Das, Amy Taetzsch, Kathryn Barger, Amy Krauss, Salima F. Taylor, all Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University; Vivian M. M. Suen, Ribeirão Preto Medical School of University of Sao Paulo; Jussi Pihlajamäki, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland, and Clinical Nutrition and Obesity Center, Kuopio University Hospital; Rebecca Kuriyan, St John's Research Institute, Bengaluru India; Matilda Steiner-Asiedu, University of Ghana, Legon-Accra; Alex K. Anderson, University of Georgia; Rachel E. Silver, USDA HNRCA and Friedman School; Leila Karhunen, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio; Xueying Zhang, State Key Laboratory of Molecular Developmental Biology, Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and University of Chinese Academy of Sciences; Catherine Hambly, Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen; Ursula Schwab, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio; Andresa T. T. Melo, University of Ribeirao Preto; Priscilla G. Fassini, Ribeirão Preto Medical School of University of Sao Paulo; Christina Economos, Friedman School; and Anura V. Kurpad, St John's Research Institute.

This study was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), National Science Foundation of China, University of Eastern Finland, and the University of Georgia Global Research Collaborative Grant Program. Any opinions, findings, conclusion, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds


Your urine may hold clues to your bone health

Dec 05,2018

In a recent study, researchers at Bengaluru’s St. John’s Research Institute, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and St. John’s Medical College and Hospital, have described how the presence of a particular mineral in the urine can tell a tale about the health of our bones. The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports, and the study was funded by the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance and the Department of Science and Technology.

Our bones undergo a continuous remodelling process where new ones replace old bone tissues. Osteoclasts, a particular type of bone cells that destroy bone tissues, work in tandem with osteoblasts that synthesise new bone tissues. In a healthy individual, the rate of bone formation and destruction are equal. Any imbalance in this process can result in conditions like osteoporosis leading to weak and brittle bones. Hence, diagnosing such conditions early on can help retain strong bones.

Calcium, a major mineral component of the bone, is considered an indicator of bone health. When calcium is depleted from bones, it gets thrown out in the urine. Thus, the amount of calcium present in the urine correlates with the difference in bone formation and destruction. This difference is known as bone mineral balance. Calcium has six naturally occurring isotopes, or variants, of which 40Ca and 44Ca are the most abundant ones. In the bone remodelling process, the formation of bone favours the lighter isotope (40Ca) leading to a depletion of heavier isotopes (44Ca). The researchers of this study estimated the variability in the ratio of these two isotopes (ð44/40Ca) to evaluate bone health.

Vitamin D3 is a common supplement prescribed to treat osteoporosis. The researchers of this study provided vitamin D3 supplements for three weeks to some patients with a deficiency of vitamin D3. They then analysed the changes in the calcium isotopes in their urine and calculated the bone mineral balance.

In healthy individuals, the ð44/40Ca value in the urine is expected to be positive. The researchers observed that when subjects were treated with vitamin D3 supplements, the ð44/40Ca was positive and the bone mineral balance of these patients was better than those who were not on supplements. This observation indicated the role of vitamin D3 in bone metabolism and health.

Two hormones, calcitonin and parathyroid, play an important role in the regulation of calcium levels in the body. Calcitonin promotes the deposition of calcium in the bones and parathyroid does the opposite. The researchers also observed that vitamin D3 supplements reduced the levels of parathyroid.

The study provides insights into how the urine can tell a tale of our bone health. “Our results indicate that the natural variability in ð44/40Ca of urine and the derived bone mineral balance from it can be used as a novel biomarker for bone health, and could be used for estimation of osteoporotic risks”, conclude the researchers.

Your urine may hold clues to your bone health


The Story of a Disease

Dec 05,2018

One of the unlikeliest stories has now been adapted as a play

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee, renowned cancer specialist, researcher and a stellar author, described his book The Emperor of All Maladies as “a biography of cancer”. Its overarching narrative not only picturised the history of how cancer has been understood and treated (right from when the Greek thought it was due to ‘black bile’) but sketched out the contributions of anti-cancer protagonists like William Stewart Halsted (advocated surgery for breast cancer), Sidney Farber (who shaped a breakthrough approach in treating leukaemia in children) to the relatively unknown Indian scientist Yellapragada Subbarao. To sum up, this 500-odd page book is an honest and unlikely book anyone could have written on the subject.

But all of the above is still not enough to enthuse a playwright to make a play out of it. When Kavya Srinivasan and Ravi Chari, part of the Bangalore Little Theatre (BLT), attempted to do that, reactions from others were incredible surprise. “‘You are doing what!’ was how people would react,” laughs Srinivasan, who is also a professional storyteller. To be fair, it wasn’t something they set out to do although both claim to have read the tome previously.

On the occasion of the 14th World Congress of Bioethics to be held in the city, the St John’s Research Institute reached out to Vijay Padaki of BLT to create an exclusive play for the occasion. The Emperor of Maladies now became the apt book. While the medical fraternity sought and received a ‘carte blanche’ permission from Mukherjee himself, the task of adapting it to audiences who in the future could be from the non medical background as well, fell on to the two playwrights.

The result of hours of brainstorming is a play titled Monsters in The Dark. Srinivasan, who works as a play developer for the BLT, calls the attempt as a challenging one but is quick to term the effort as “interesting”. The book has so much of material that the co-writers joked it would fuel three plays not just one. Which meant there had to be “decisive cuts” of what stays and what doesn’t.

She speaks of Mukherjee’s narration of the story of his own patient Carla Reed’s story as one that holds the book together. The writers decided to keep that in the play. Then there is the story of Gordon Zubrod who was the first to study the effect of multiple chemicals on treating cancer which was effectively the first appearance of what is known as chemotherapy. Srinivasan talks of ‘Yella’ or Yellapragada Subbarao as one of the interesting stories told within the play. Back in the 30s, it was Subbarao, as a junior faculty in the Harvard Medical School, first discovered the role of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) in muscular activity. “But in spite of his discovery, Yella failed to get a regular faculty job at Harvard.” Working in a private firm, after quitting Harvard, Subbarao was in touch with Farber himself. “While working on folate which helps form white blood cells (WBCs), Farber had made the connection that anti folates should curb the formation of WBCs,” Srinivasan explains. A high count of WBCs may indicate the underlying exisitence of some cancers. “”Yella was the first to synthetically produce anti folates, or in short, the first drug to combat certain cancers.”

This story, of the man whose any one of the achievements, as Mukherjee wrote in the book “should have been enough to guarantee him a professorship at Harvard. But Subbarao was a foreigner, a reclusive, nocturnal, heavily accented vegetarian who lived in a one-room apartment downtown, befriended only by other nocturnal recluses”, was added to the play without hesitations.

The writers have taken some creative licences by including three lab rats who discuss what it means to be part of the cancer story as well as the bioethics ramifications. This segment takes it reference from the OncoMouse that Mukherjee has written about. “This was the first ever patented mouse which was genetically modified by researchers at Harvard University to increase the susceptibility of cancer in the mouse,” Srinivasan comments.

With The Monsters in The Dark now ready to roll, Srinivasan exults about Mukherjee’s prowess as a storyteller. “His writing is so literary and powerful that we actually lifted ad verbatim certain dialogues he wrote.” The writers are hopeful he would come to the Congress so that they could find out his reaction to it first hand.

At 6pm, St John’s Auditorium, on December 5. Entry is free.

The Story of a Disease


Is Bengaluru’s polluted air ‘breaking’ young hearts?

Oct 30,2018

Vasanth Kumar, 34, is a non-smoker and teetotaler. The autorickshaw driver from Bommanahalli spends nearly 12 hours a day on the roads to provide for his wife and two children. Three months ago, his small world came crashing down.

At first, the pain in his left chest was bearable. With time, it aggravated and one day, he had to be taken to the state-run Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research. There, the doctors gave him some shocking news – he had suffered a heart attack due to blocked arteries.

The doctors were as puzzled as Vasant and his family were.

“Vasanth is one of the many patients we’ve seen who have suffered heart attacks with no known risk factors involved,” says Dr Rahul S Patil, consultant cardiologist and head of project Premature Coronary Artery Disease (PCAD) at the institute. “We are seeing an increase in the number of young age heart attacks. Air pollution is one of the causes.”

Prolonged hours on the road, surrounded by vehicle emissions, impacts the heart, the ongoing study at the institute has found. It covers 2,000 heart patients below 40 years who have been visiting the hospital since April 2017. Over 25% of the patients are either auto drivers or cab drivers, while 65% are from Bengaluru.

“I don’t drink nor smoke. Even the doctors don’t know what may have led to the heart attack,” says Vasanth. “I am more cautious these days. But I have returned to work. I am an autorickshaw driver and that’s my job. I have to continue working.”

Researchers at Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research are charting the frequented routes of these patients and to study the impact, mobile air pollution monitors have to be set up. St John’s Research Institute too has joined the study.

“We want to understand the effect of traffic and air pollution on the working population travelling in cars,” says Patil. “In the studied population, blood is hyper viscous and unable to flow freely through the arteries. We have learned that there is an abnormal fluctuation in their blood pressure and heart rate, which are known to be detrimental to the heart.”

Studies across the world have found that air pollutants lead to cardiovascular diseases such as artery blockages leading to heart attacks and death of heart tissue due to oxygen deprivation, leading to permanent heart damage. While it is still being studied exactly how pollutants weaken the heart, scientists say it is similar to how respiratory disease is caused – by inflammation and oxidative stress.

Is Bengaluru’s polluted air ‘breaking’ young hearts?


Childhood obesity: Researchers evaluate body fat cut-off for children

Oct 11,2018

Indians are very likely to have a higher fat content in their body when compared to other individuals with a similar weight from Western countries, say doctors. In other words, being ‘overweight’ in India is likely to be as bad as being ‘obese’ elsewhere in the world.

Such a ‘body fat cut-off’ was not available so far. Now, researchers from the Division of Nutrition in the city-based St John’s Research Institute have developed body fat cut-off for children at different ages from six to 15 years.

The team of researchers led by Rebecca Kuriyan Raj, Head of Clinical Nutrition Unit in the institute, conducted a ‘Pediatric Epidemiology and Child Health Study’ (PEACH) study where they accurately measured body fat content in 9,700 children in the six to 15 age group. The children were drawn from various schools in the city and were evaluated for a period of five years from 2011. Using these measurements, percentile curves and cut-off have been generated. These curves and cut-off graphs were published in international journal, Obesity, on October 2.

Prof Rebecca Kuriyan Raj told The Hindu that this information can help medical and public health professionals identify children with excessive body fat and plan interventions to prevent pediatric overweight/obesity, thereby reducing the risk of health problems in later life. “It is known that the most risky fat is that which is present in the abdomen, giving the ‘paunch’ or bulging tummy. This is easier to measure as it is really the waist size, and can be measured with a tape. We have also generated percentile curves for diagnosing an excessive tummy in the PEACH study and these were published in Indian Pediatrics Journal in 2011,” she said.

Is this hereditary? It is likely, both from a genetic and a clustering of lifestyle perspective in the same family. Another finding from the PEACH study, which has been published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July, is that a younger child’s waist circumference is very strongly associated with the older sibling’s waist circumference, especially when the siblings were of the same gender. “This is more marked in boys. These findings can play a role in clinical practice, while planning strategies to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity. Older siblings often tend to be role models and have the ability to influence the attitudes and behaviour of younger siblings. Thus planning interventions, involving a sibling component in the treatment along with diet, physical activity and behavioural modifications may result in effective strategies in the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity,” she explained.

Childhood obesity: Researchers evaluate body fat cut-off for children


Study reveals reasons of death after non-cardiac surgery

Aug 28,2018

The VISION study included 40,004 patients aged 45 years or older undergoing non-cardiac surgery and remaining in hospital for at least one night. Patients were recruited from 27 centers in 14 countries in North and South America, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia, and monitored for complications until 30 days after their surgery.

The main reasons why people die after non-cardiac surgery are revealed in a study of more than 40,000 patients from six continents presented in a late breaking science session at ESC Congress 2018. Myocardial injury, major bleeding, and sepsis contributed to nearly three-quarters of all deaths.

“There’s a false assumption among patients that once you’ve undergone surgery, you’ve ‘made it’,” said study author Dr Jessica Spence, of the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI), a joint institute of Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada. “Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and now we have a much better sense of when and why people die after non-cardiac surgery. Most deaths are linked to cardiovascular causes.”

The VISION study included 40,004 patients aged 45 years or older undergoing non-cardiac surgery and remaining in hospital for at least one night. Patients were recruited from 27 centers in 14 countries in North and South America, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia, and monitored for complications until 30 days after their surgery.

The researchers found that 715 (1.8%) patients died within 30 days after non-cardiac surgery. Of those, 505 (71%) died in hospital (including four [0.6%] in the operating room), and 210 (29%) died after discharge from hospital. Dr. Spence said: “One in 56 patients died within 30 days of non-cardiac surgery and nearly all deaths occurred after leaving the operating room, with more than a quarter occurring after hospital discharge.”

Eight perioperative complications – including five cardiovascular – were associated with death within 30 days postoperatively. The top three complications, which contributed to nearly three-quarters of all deaths, were myocardial injury after non-cardiac surgery (MINS; 29%), major bleeding (25%), and sepsis (20%).

“We’re letting patients down in postoperative management,” said principal investigator Professor Philip J. Devereaux, director of cardiology at McMaster University. “The study suggests that most deaths after non-cardiac surgery are due to cardiovascular causes, so cardiologists have a major role to play to improve patient safety. This includes conducting blood and imaging tests to identify patients at risk then giving preventive treatment, including medications that prevent abnormal heart rhythms, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and prevent blood clots.”

Earlier findings from the VISION study showed that a simple blood test can identify MINS, enabling clinicians to intervene early and prevent further complications. (3) The blood test measures a protein called high-sensitivity troponin T which is released into the bloodstream when injury to the heart occurs.

Regarding cardiovascular complications, MINS occurred in 5,191 (13%) patients and independently increased the risk of 30-day mortality by 2.6-fold; major bleeding occurred in 6,238 (16%) patients and increased risk by 2.4-fold; 372 (0.9%) patients had congestive heart failure, which raised risk by 1.6-fold; 152 (0.4%) patients had deep venous thrombosis which raised risk by 2.1-fold; and 132 (0.3%) patients had a stroke, which increased risk by a factor of 1.6.

Regarding non-cardiovascular complications associated with 30-day mortality, sepsis occurred in 1,783 (4.5%) patients and independently increased risk by 5.7-fold; infection occurred in 2,171 (5.4%) patients and raised risk by 1.9-fold; and 118 patients (0.3%) had acute kidney injury resulting in new dialysis, which increased risk by 4.7-fold.

“Combined, these discoveries tell us that we need to become more involved in care and monitoring after surgery to ensure that patients at risk have the best chance for a good recovery,” said Dr Spence, who is also an anesthesiologist at HHS and a PhD candidate at McMaster University.


Roche Diagnostics provided the troponin T assays as well as financial support for the VISION Study. Funding for this study came from more than 60 grants for VISION and its sub studies.

Australia: National Health and Medical Research Council Program.

Brazil: Projeto Hospitais de Excelencia a Servico do SUS (PROADI-SUS) grant from the Brazilian Ministry of Health in partnership with Hcor (Cardiac Hospital Sao Paulo-SP); National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPQ) grant from the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology. China: Public Policy Research Fund (grant CUHK-4002-PPR-3), Research Grant Council, Hong Kong SAR; General Research Fund (grant 461412). Research Grant Council, Hong Kong SAR: Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (grant 13/008).

Canada: Canadian Institutes of Health Research (7 grants); Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario (2 grants); Academic Health Science Centers Alternative Funding Plan Innovation Fund Ontario; Population Health Research Institute; CLARITY Research Group; McMaster University Department of Surgery Surgical Associates; Hamilton Health Science New Investigator Fund; Hamilton Health Sciences; Ontario Ministry of Resources and innovation; Stryker Canada; McMaster University, Department of Anesthesiology (2 grants); St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Department of Medicine (2 grants); Father Sean O’Sullivan Research Centre (2 grants); McMaster University Department of Medicine (2 grants); Roche Diagnostics Global Office (5 grants); Hamilton Health Sciences Summer Studentships (6 grants); McMaster University Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics; McMaster University, Division of Cardiology; Canadian Network and Centre for Trials Internationally: Winnipeg Health Sciences Foundation; University of Manitoba Department of Surgery (2 grants); Diagnostic Services of Manitoba Research; Manitoba Medical Services Foundation; Manitoba Health Research Council; University of Manitoba Faculty of Dentistry Operational Fund; University of Manitoba Department of Anesthesia; University Medical Group, Department of Surgery, University of Manitoba, Start-up Fund.

Colombia: School of Nursing, Universida Industrial de Santander; Grupo de Cardiologia Preventiva, Universidad Autonoma de Bucaramanga: Fundacion Cardioinfantil-Instituto de Cardiologia; Alianza Diagnostica SA.

France: Universite Pierre et Marie Curie. Department d’anesthsie Reanimation, Pitie-Salpetriere, Assistance Publique-Hopitaux de Paris.

India: St. John’s Medical College and Research Institute: Division of Clinical Research and Training.

Malaysia: University of Malaya (grant RG302-14AFR); University of Malaya, Penyelidikan Jangka Pendek.

Poland: Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education (grant NN402083939).

South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Spain: Instituto de Salud Carlos III; Fundacio La Marato de TV3. United States: America Heart Association; Covidien.

United Kingdom: National Institute for Health Research.


New research proposes using local data in resolving malnutrition

Aug 23,2018

Kwashiorkor, one of the most extreme forms of malnutrition, is estimated to affect more than a hundred thousand children annually. The condition can make a starving child look healthy to the untrained eye, which makes it difficult to study and track. As a result, it has largely been overlooked by the scientific community. Researchers have recently attempted to increase its recognition by conducting a global study of more than 1.7 million children, but a new study published in the Food and Nutrition Bulletin reveals that kwashiorkor may be a local phenomenon that is underestimated by national statistics.

Out today, the study concludes that analyzing data on a large, global scale carries dangerous risks:

  1. Health crises like kwashiorkor in particular villages may go undetected
  2. The real effects of health interventions may be underestimated
  3. Badly targeted interventions may lead to poor coverage, efficacy, and cost-efficiency
  4. Researchers may miss useful insights into the root causes of a disease like kwashiorkor.

Nutrition researchers from Tufts University, Harvard University, and St. Johns Research Institute conducted a comprehensive survey of a geographic area including more than 1,300 children aged one to five years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A previous study conducted globally had suggested that 33 percent of malnutrition cases in the DRC were of the kwashiorkor variety but that this was higher in some provinces than others. Hoping to better understand this dynamic, the researchers comprehensively surveyed 19 neighboring villages to understand the prevalence of the disease at the local level.

Their results found that rates of kwashiorkor varied from 0 to 14.9 percent in these villages, the latter number indicating extreme nutritional stress within specific communities. The difference between different areas, which appeared statistically identical, was extreme: one group, or "cluster," of five adjacent villages had no cases of kwashiorkor, while in a neighboring cluster of five villages, 9.5% of children had the condition. By interviewing health service staff members in the region and reviewing the nutritional history of the children, the researchers were able to confirm that these numbers reflect a long-term pattern.

"Understanding that this clustering effect exists, at least in some regions, provides an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of treatment through better targeting in those regions and to explore potential risk factors for kwashiorkor," write the researchers.

Women in Science: Sucharita Sambashivaiah on understanding and preventing Type 2 diabetes in India

Aug 22,2018

Women in Science: Sucharita Sambashivaiah on understanding and preventing Type 2 diabetes in India

Click Here to read the full news article


Fat is Fit

Aug 19,2018

Recent studies show saturated fat is not the cause of rising heart disease

Fat is not killing you. For years, fat was the villain of the diet-heart story. You ate excess fat, typically saturated fat, and it raised your 'bad' cholesterol levels or LDL, and gave you heart disease. Dietary guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) have for more than a decade told us to keep the total fat levels to 30 per cent of the total calorie intake. Within that, the standard advice is to keep the levels of saturated fat to less than 10 per cent, given the understanding about its link to heart disease.

That understanding is incorrect, as it turns out now. Saturated fat has been exonerated by several studies, complete with evidence suggesting that the association between saturated fat and heart disease is untrue. Some experts would even say that WHO was wrong, at least when it came to the subject of fat and its role in coronary heart disease (CHD). If fat was giving us heart trouble, then despite the efforts to reduce it all along—didn't we give up whole fat milk, butter and ghee?—why was the epidemic of heart disease and diabetes rising the world over, including India?

That story, experts say, is complex and needs careful assessment. The latest in the sequence of evidence exonerating fat came after the results of the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study were published in the influential journal, Lancet. The PURE study, its authors claim, was a game-changer of sorts because nothing like this had ever been attempted before—a diet study with such a large sample across so many countries, including low- and middle-income countries. For the PURE study, the sample was diverse: researchers followed a large number (1,35,335) of young and old people (35-70 years) from 18 countries in five continents for ten years. Their dietary intake, incidence of total mortality (deaths) and major cardiovascular events (fatal cardiovascular disease, non-fatal myocardial infarction, stroke, and heart failure) were recorded. The association between consumption of carbohydrate, total fat and each type of fat with cardiovascular disease and total mortality were then studied.

Fat, as it turned out, was not the villain here.

Instead, it was found that a high carbohydrate intake was associated with a higher risk of total mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality or lesser number of deaths. Moreover, they found no association between total fat and types of fat, with heart disease, myocardial infarction (heart attacks) and deaths due to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Saturated fat, they found, actually had an inverse association with stroke.

Based on the evidence, the PURE study called for a revision of global dietary guidelines. However, in May, when WHO released its proposed revised dietary guidelines, it reiterated the same logic that had been circulating for the last 15 years —keep saturated fat to less than 10 per cent of total calorie intake, or less than 30 grams in a day. “Dietary saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids are of particular concern as high levels of intake are correlated with increased risk of CVDs. Saturated fatty acids are found in food from animal sources such as butter, milk, meat, salmon, and egg yolk, and some plant-derived products such as chocolate and cocoa butter, coconut, palm and palm kernel oils,” the proposed guidelines read.

The results of the PURE study, as one would have expected, did not seem to reflect in the guidelines. The growing evidence that redeemed fat against heart disease, or the real culprit—carbohydrates—did not find a place in the guidelines. “WHO is not a body that changes easily. It is not even a scientific body, it is a political body,” said Dr Salim Yusuf, professor of medicine, McMaster University, and senior author of the PURE study, in a scathing response to WHO's global guidelines. Yusuf, who is also the former president of the World Heart Federation, says that several countries such as Canada do not follow WHO guidelines, and instead have their own guidelines. The PURE study was not unique or isolated and was only building upon other studies that had shown that a low-fat diet was not a good idea, says Yusuf.

Until the PURE study, most of the studies on fats had been done on people from Europe and North America, where fat intake was high due to consumption of meat and cheese, he says. In India, for instance, the diet is heavy on carbohydrates with more than 50 per cent accounted by it, and low on fat and protein.

However, the confusion over the dietary advice—at times contradictory, too—raises several questions. First, why had fat been the villain for so long, if, clearly, there was not much of a case against it? Second, what does all the conflict over fat—to eat or not to eat—mean for Indians?

The dietary fat story is complex, and as experts say, needs to be assessed carefully. Though the theory became popular in the 1970s, after American physiologist Ancel Keys came out with his seminal Seven Countries Study in which he said that the incidence of CHD was directly related to serum cholesterol values, and that these values were related to the average consumption of saturated fatty acids (SFA). This led to a change in the way fat was viewed globally, with the USFDA and the American Heart Association (AHA) prescribing a lower fat intake. The AHA still prescribes saturated fat to be kept to seven per cent of the total calorie intake.

In India, fat was not much of a cause for debate. “Even though we follow WHO guidelines, the ones related to saturated fat does not mean much for us in India,” says Dr Indu Mani, visiting faculty at the division of nutrition at St John’s Research Institute, Bengaluru. In fact, fat has never been a problem for us, she says. “We have been eating less of it, especially in rural India. In urban areas too, on an average, fat would be about 20-25 per cent of the total calorie intake. This, as compared to the 35-40 per cent fat intake that people in the US, the UK and Australia would be eating, given their meat-heavy diet.” Mani is also a member of the committee working on India's dietary guidelines, due next year.

In an article published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research last February, Mani and Dr V. Anura Kurpad, professor and head of physiology and nutrition at St John’s Medical College, Bengaluru, wrote that the role of fat in the diet was never a part of nutrition debates in India, until the 1980s and 1990s, when the initial dietary guidelines and Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) were published, for implementation on a national level. “At this point it was clear that the dietary patterns of Indians were vastly different from a typical western diet, with high carbs and low fat,” they wrote.

“Owing to a low fat intake in rural areas, India has always had a nuanced approach to fat intake, even when the clamour for reducing this was high,” said Kurpad, who is also the former president of the Nutrition Society of India. “That approach is correct as we are seeing that an overly high carbohydrate intake may be associated with a greater risk for mortality and major cardiovascular disease.”

But before fat is let off the hook for Indians, Mani and Kurpad say that a differentiation among fats needs to be accounted for. “We need to understand that there are different kinds of fats, and in India, we need a certain kind of fat more than others,” said Mani. Dietary fat is composed predominantly of triglycerides (98 per cent), and small amounts of phospholipids and sterols. Fatty acids in triglycerides are classified as saturated, mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated, the latter being further divided into omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Among all the fatty acids, only linoleic acid or polyunsaturated omega 6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid or polyunsaturated omega 3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids (EFAs) since these cannot be synthesised in the body.

Between these two fatty acids, it is the omega 3 that has a protective benefit, and in India we have started eating less of that, says Kurpad. The call to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) actually ended up skewing the balance between the two omega fatty acids. “Within fats too, a balance is required,” said Kurpad. The WHO advice about keeping the energy contribution from saturated fats to a third of the total delivered by fats is a good thing, he says. “But more important is the balance between the n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids . We simply have too much of the latter in our diets, when benefits have been clearly ascribed to the former,” said Kurpad.

As early as the 1990s, researchers had cautioned against the recommendations to replace SFA with PUFA without distinguishing between the n-6 and n-3 families, Kurpad and Mani wrote in their article. But, the message got lost in the general clamour to reduce fat.

Indians, who were eating a high carbohydrate, cereal-pulse diet got their unsaturated fats mainly from cooking oils. Once the omega 6-high sunflower and safflower oils replaced saturated fats such as ghee and coconut oil, and sedentary lifestyles took over, there was a problem at hand. “Oils such as sunflower oil are really the worst,” said Mani. “Instead, one should use mustard oil, sesame and groundnut oils. Items in the traditional diet had that balance. For instance, the urad dal used in idli and dosa has relatively high amounts of omega 3. Studies conducted in animals have shown that high omega 6 diets, especially in combination with a low-fat diet, result in a pro-inflammatory condition resulting in an increased deposition of adipose tissue.”

Though the focus has definitely shifted from saturated fat, cardiologists say fats are not off the hook. Indians are eating too much of trans-fat as well as 'bad' or refined carbohydrates. “Whole milk, butter and eggs are good and do not arouse concern when had in moderation,” said Dr Viveka Kumar, senior director, cath lab, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket in Delhi. “The global advisory for fat intake has also shifted from 7 per cent to 10 per cent. But Indians are eating too much deep fried snacks, savoury items that are packaged and preserved, and have trans-fat in them. These snacks are fried, and the oil is reused several times to fry subsequent batches of food, leading to formation of trans-fat in them.”

Besides trans-fat, Kumar says he advises his patients to keep in mind the six 'S's—avoid sugar, salt, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and stress, and get enough sleep. “Smoking and tobacco [use] are the highest in India, and combined with a diet that has less fibre and fresh fruits and vegetables, the rates of cardiovascular diseases are bound to be high,” he said. “Besides, in cities such as Delhi, pollution is a major cause of heart disease, because breathing polluted air is akin to smoking 14-16 cigarettes a day. Each cigarette means a three per cent rise in risk of heart disease.”

Results from global studies have raised confusion about saturated fat, says Dr Ashok Seth, chairman, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Delhi. “While saturated fat is not much of a concern, the evidence on the effect of trans-fat is clear,” says Seth. “So it is not the butter or meat for us, it is the fried food and snacks at the halwai, the fast food joints, basically all the stuff that is reheated, or packaged.”

Seth says that the emphasis has to be on a balanced diet, and at the same time, not replacing fats with the wrong kind of carbohydrates such as refined atta, or even low fat, sugary foods. “When it comes to heart disease, Indians are like loaded guns. They just need a trigger,” said Seth. Indians are three times more likely to have heart disease than those living in the west, and six times more likely to have it than the Chinese, given the same risk factors. Studies done on fourth generation Indians in Singapore, West Indies, Fiji and the UK found that despite them living in these countries for several generations, they were still more prone to heart disease than the natives, says Seth.

“Heart disease is a result of several factors such as race, lifestyle and diet,” he said. Both Seth and Kumar agree that the thrifty gene theory—genes that enable us to efficiently collect and process food to deposit fat during periods of food abundance in order to provide for food shortage—holds true for Indians and account for rising obesity.

Every dietary advice then must be taken up with caution, Seth says. “Studies such as PURE only show that there is no association between saturated fat and heart disease, but these are not cause and effect analysis. Which is why WHO has not changed its guidelines, too,” said Seth, an ardent advocate of a balanced diet and home-cooked food for good heart health. He also stresses on regular exercise for 40-45 minutes, at a pace where one can speak only a single sentence. “Anything over that time limit may help lose weight but does not have benefits for the heart,” he said.

If cardiologists stress on moderation in fats and avoiding junk, nutrition experts say that instead of a focus on a single nutrient, diversity and balance should be stressed. “People are eating a lot of carbohydrates, if we are to believe the daily intake of 400 grams of cereals and millets,” he said. “Once cooked, that is a lot of food on a plate, but unfortunately not balanced. It might assuage hunger, but not the needs of good health. A smaller amount of food on a plate, with a lot of diverse sources is what is needed. There are populations in the world that live long by eating less of a more varied diet.”

Fat is Fit


Novel method developed to measure protein digestion

Jul 28,2018

Removing the hull of mung bean before ingestion increases the average digestibility of amino acids

By labelling spirulina and two legumes (chick pea and mung bean pea) with stable, nonradioactive isotopes of carbon (13C) and hydrogen (2H) respectively, researchers at St. John’s Research Institute have found a new way to accurately measure the digestibility of dietary proteins.

In the six adults who consumed the labelled proteins, 85% of the spirulina protein was absorbed while only about 57% was absorbed in the case of both chickpea and mung beans. The results were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The research team led by Anura V Kurpad from the Institute’s Department of Physiology found that removing the hull or skin of mung bean before ingestion increases the average digestibility of essential amino acids by 10%. There are two ways by which the hull reduces digestibility. While anti-proteases present in the hull block the action of intestinal digestive enzymes, the polyphenols in it reduce the activity of the digestive enzyme.

“We knew the hull has anti-nutrition factors that hinder digestion and that dehulling will increase amino acid digestibility. But the 10% increase in digestibility when dehulled was not expected,” says Sarita Devi at the Institute’s Division of Nutrition and first author of the paper.

“The hull has less effect in the case of chick pea whereas it is a substantial problem in mung bean,” says Prof. Kurpad.

In another study, which will soon be published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the team used stable isotopes to label and measure protein digestion in meat (chicken) and egg. At 92%, the essential amino acid digestion was highest in cooked chicken, followed by whole boiled egg at 89% and egg white protein at 86%.

“The amount of essential amino acid digested and absorbed is far higher in animal-source protein than plant-based protein,” says Prof. Kurpad. “In contrast, one has to consume about 40% more dal to get the same amino acid into the body as animal source protein. On the other hand, legumes are good for the environment and land and offer many other beneficial nutrients and so a balance has to be reached when deciding on the source of high quality protein foods in the diet.”

Of the 20 amino acids that we need, the body cannot synthesise nine; dietary protein is the only source of these essential amino acids. But till now there was no way to know how well the protein consumed is digested and absorbed by the body.

The crude method adopted so far was to feed protein-rich food and measure the nitrogen content in the faeces. “But protein is only digested and absorbed in the small intestine. In the large intestine the microbiome takes away or adds nitrogen. So measuring nitrogen in the faeces as an index of what has been digested and absorbed can be misleading,” says Prof. Kurpad. “If you have wrong information about digestion, we will end up with wrong recommendation for the quantity of specific food-based protein to be consumed.”

The team has been working for over 15 years on a stable carbon isotope (13C) method that they developed to measure the true amino acid requirement in humans. These studies have defined the requirement of amino acid has to be consumed every day to meet the protein requirement, and formed the primary evidence for the 2007 WHO/FAO/UNU Expert Committee Recommendations. These recommendations were very important since they overturned the earlier values for amino acid requirements set by the WHO/FAO/UNU in 1985, which was based on the nitrogen balance measurements from urine and faeces, and were inaccurate.

“Since even digestion measurement was not correct, owing to difficulties in accessing small intestinal events, we devised the dual-isotope method to measure digestion in the small intestine,” he says. These results, while setting up a new method, will inform policies on feeding populations and individuals the appropriate amounts and types of food.

Novel method developed to measure protein digestion

India Alliance (24th July, 2018)
Measurement of protein digestibility in humans: Revisiting basic nutrition science


New partnership formed to lead India on health informatics education and research

Jul 10,2018

St. John’s Research Institute and its Division of Medical Informatics have today entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Swansea University and its Medical School which is ranked top 5 in the UK. The MoU ceremony was held at St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences situated in the city of Bangalore, India. The ceremony was attended by Rev. Dr. Paul Parathazham (Director, St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences), Rev. Fr. Jesudoss Rajamanickam (Associate Director Finance, St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences), Dr. Tony D. S. Raj (Dean, St. John’s Research Institute), Dr. George D’Souza (Dean, St. John’s Medical College), Dr. Prem K Mony (Vice Dean, St. John’s Research Institute), Rev. Fr. John V. Thekkekara (Head, Department of Hospital Administration), Prof. David Vincent Ford (Professor of Health Informatics, Swansea University Medical School), Mr. Anthony Michael Paget (Associate Professor of Health Informatics, Swansea University Medical School), Mr. Mark Narusberg (Assistant Director - Global Academic Partnerships, Swansea University), Ms. Stephanie Lee (Head of Marketing and Communications - Health Informatics, Swansea University Medical School) and Ms. Arijita Sanyal (British Council).

The MoU will facilitate India’s first of its kind education and research hub specialising in health informatics to be established at St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI) in Bangalore, in partnership with Swansea University. Both partnering institutions have also developed new links to strengthen health informatics research in their respective countries, India and UK, through the signing of the MoU.

Speaking at the occasion, Rev. Dr. Paul Parathazham, Director of St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences said:

“We are pleased to formalize a strategic partnership with Swansea University and its Medical School at Wales, UK in the areas of education and research.  St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences opened its Medical College over 55 years ago to train medical professionals to serve the underserved in India.  We’re hoping with this MoU and partnership with Swansea University we will be able to train the next generation of health care professionals to improve health of our communities using Healthcare Information technologies.”

Speaking at the occasion, Dr Tony Raj, Dean of St. John’s Research Institute and Head of the Medical Informatics Division said:

“We are delighted to have formalised a partnership with Swansea University and its Medical School, which is ranked top 5 in the UK, to deliver health informatics education at SJRI and facilitate health informatics research and innovations. The objective of the MoU is to work towards the development of the health informatics profession in India; to enable professionals who are working in the health and healthcare sector in India a fresh opportunity to pursue a career in health informatics, and pursue research in Health Informatics.”

The Lead of the Health Informatics Teaching Team and Associate Professor at Swansea University Medical School, Tony Paget said:

“Because of this unique arrangement, the education hub at SJRI can now offer students who are living in India the opportunity to study Swansea University’s two-year Master of Science (MSc) in Health Informatics without the need to travel to the UK. The same opportunity will subsequently be extended to its sister course - the MSc in Health Data Science.”

The high-quality yet affordable courses will be delivered by Swansea University Medical School’s health informatics teaching team through ‘real-time’ telepresence learning, alongside students studying at Swansea University in the UK, working in close collaboration with the team from the Division of Medical Informatics at St. John’s Research Institute.

The hub at SJRI will receive its first intake of Indian students studying for the Swansea University’s two-year MSc in Health Informatics course to be initiated shortly. 

Professor David Ford, Professor of Health Informatics and who leads the Health Informatics group at Swansea University Medical School said:

 “We are absolutely delighted to form this exciting new partnership with our colleagues at SJRI.  Together we will be able to offer an outstanding learning opportunity for students from India using a truly novel approach to teaching.  On top of this, we see the partnership as being a perfect foundation for a range of health informatics research activities, where our skills, experience and interests are perfectly aligned, positioning us among the leading groups in the emerging field of health data science.”


City, Dutch researchers to make tumour removal error-free

May 19,2018

Testing tumour tissues for malignant cancers and removal of such cancerous tissues will be a zero-error procedure. Indian and Dutch researchers are planning to embark on a four-year project to develop high-precision minimally invasive imaging needles for the purpose. The project, starting in August, will involve researchers from Bengaluru-based institutions Indian Institute of Science (IISc), National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), St John’s Research Institute along with Dutch University of Twente (UTwente), the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) and the Medical Spectrum Twente (MST) hospital group.

The project with a budget of half-a-million Euros (`4.01 crore) will see developing such minimally invasive needles for photoacoustic medical imaging technology for testing and removal of cancerous tissues. The photoacoustic effect — or optoacoustic effect — is the formation of sound waves following light absorption in a material sample.

The technique involves using minimally invasive needles to shine a laser beam into the human tissue in places where there is rich supply of blood (in the vicinity of tumours, for example). The absorbed light energy is converted to ultrasound, which can then be detected as it passes through the tissue. The ultrasound signal is then used to generate detailed images of areas inside the tissue, to show clearly where and how blood vessels are distributed.

This reveals the precise extent of the tumour and the probable cancerous tissue to be removed — in a biopsy — to study whether the tumour is cancerous or not. The same technique can also be adopted for removal of the tumour, in which the precision needles can be used to check whether all the cancerous parts of the tumour have been removed to prevent a relapse, explained the researchers. The project leader, Srirang Manohar, says that the technology he is planning to develop will be suitable for virtually any medical procedures in which needles are used.

“It could be used when taking biopsies, for example, or in radiofrequency ablation (RFA), where tumours are ‘burned up’ by needles emitting radio waves. This technique will help doctors to take biopsies more accurately, or to check whether the tumour has been fully removed,” Dr Manohar explained. He leads a University of Twente team made up of researchers from the university’s Biomedical Photonic Imaging group (BMPI) and its Fraunhofer Project Centre (FPC@UT). The FPC@UT is focusing on the engineering and production aspects of the needles.

Dr Manohar will work on this project along with Prof Manish Arora from IISc, Prof Dhananjaya Bhat (from NIMHANS), Prof Tony Raj (from SJRI), Prof Martin Verweij (TU Delft, Netherlands), and Dr Joost Klaase (MST, Netherlands).The researchers have received a grant of half-a-million Euros from The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw). This is one of the three projects identified for joint collaboration between Dutch and Indian researchers jointly funded by the ZonMw and India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT).

City, Dutch researchers to make tumour removal error-free

News Update on 29th May, 2018:
Packing light and sound into needles to treat brain and liver

University of Twente News Update (17th May, 2018):
Imaging needles for potentially more accurate biopsies and tumour surgery



India Alliance - Fellow in Spotlight - Dr. Sucharita Sambashivaiah

Apr 25,2018

India Alliance - Fellow in Spotlight

Click Here to read the interview with Dr. Sucharita Sambashivaiah


Invited Lecture on Challenges for the 21st  Century Global Public Health: Convergence of Demography, Economics, Environment, and Biology

Apr 23,2018

Professor K.M. Venkat Narayan, Director, Emory Global Diabetes Research Center, USA , gave a lecture on "Challenges for the 21st  Century Global Public Health: Convergence of Demography, Economics, Environment, and Biology" at St. John's Research Institute on April 23, 2018.

Below is the YouTube link to the recorded session of the talk


Institutes based in Bengaluru are playing a leading role in public health

Apr 19,2018

Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science, St. John's Research Institute and NIAS, along with their counterparts in Cranfield University, are developing low-cost, secure, point-of-care ultrasound imaging for prenatal care to significantly improve the well-being of mothers and their babies.


INRA and India strengthen ties

Mar 29,2018

From 9-15 March, 2018, on the occasion of the French President’s visit to India, accompanied by the Minister of Research and Philippe Mauguin, President of INRA, several draft agreements were signed with a view to strengthening cooperation with France’s Indian partners. Several new International Associated Laboratories were created in key fields: genomic selection in cattle; the microbiota and metagenome in liver disease; grey water treatment and methanisation; and the plant protein content of diets.

A fruitful collaboration between INRA and St. John’s Research Institute led to a proposal to create an LIA entitled “Protein and Nutrition Security”. The goal is to provide reference data on protein and amino acid requirements of different populations with different physiological, pathological and environmental profiles. Another goal of the study: using the metabolic bioavailability of amino acids from different food protein sources currently available in different regions of the world, or currently being developed, as alternative sources for ensuring the nutritional security of future populations. Lastly, researchers will study the implications of these data to formulate nutritional recommendations while taking into account the nutritional needs of populations and sustainability issues linked to agricultural production and food production.

Gandhian economist sees hope in young Indian innovators

Mar 22,2018

As a historian of modern India, Mark Lindley has largely concentrated on the freedom struggle and Mahatma Gandhi.

The American scholar, now a sprightly 80, was in Bengaluru recently and spoke on 'Which parts of Mahatma Gandhi's message about health care are useful today?' at St John's Medical College.

Anila Kurian of Metrolife asked him what it was like to be a Gandhian in today's world.

How has the perception of India changed for you since 1994, when you first came here?
I came to help write a book about Mahatma Gandhi and religion. I remember being astonished that I could ride a motorcycle and see a cow on the road at the same time. There is a lot of prosperity and a great Indian middle-class today. But destitution still exists and the country is a lot more crowded than it was 20 years ago. The issue of the environment is becoming serious. There's going to be a shortage of fresh water in Bengaluru. No city in the country has changed as much as this one. When I came here in 1998, there was no hint of a shortage of fresh water. There will be serious weather crises, floods, storms and droughts. We're beginning to see that and it's only going to get worse. The only question is, how much worse.

Back in the day, the Congress used to be great but now they are just pathetic. India has become a big player in world politics. I suspect India will never catch up with China in manufacturing. India fell far behind because she did not include universal primary and secondary school as a fundamental right in the Constitution. China beat India with that and that's why I think 'Make in India' will not succeed.

What's it like being a Gandhian in today's world?
You've just implied that I am Gandhian. But Gandhi was very clear that he did not expect his followers to agree with him. He was very open-minded and I criticise him when I think he made a mistake. In that sense, I guess I can be called a Gandhian. But of course, he died a while ago and the circumstances are different now. There is no Mahatma today; so what do you do without the Mahatma to inspire you? He was a glorious figure. We don't need glory today, we need good common sense and good morale. The world is happier when you don't need glory. When you need glory, it means that the times are really bad. We can solve problems with cooperation and good morals.

What do you feel about millets being back in fashion?
The Green Revolution prevented famine in the 1970s. It should have wound down after about five years. But the rulers didn't have long-term vision. And one of the problems was that millets were pushed aside. It's tragic that if people had more brains in the '60s, they would have understood that when the monsoons are nasty, you can still harvest a decent millet crop. Growing millets in the plateau of Maharashtra should have been a part of the farmers' portfolio.

Our current lifestyle is the result of decisions our leaders took then?
You have to understand that the 20th century American way of life is not feasible in the 21st century. The automobile is a very 20th-century invention. In the 21st century, petroleum is going to run out. So the automobile is the wrong direction to go in now. But now that the youth is going to school, there are going to be smart Indians who can help lead and come up with 21st-century solutions. For example, the only polio vaccine that worked was created in India. Solar panels are another thing India can look into since there is strong sunlight here. In fact, solar is more relevant than wind here.

Is obesity catching on in India?
The American Medical Research was trying to understand whether obesity was caused by starch, fat or sugar. We now know that the sugar industry had paid the professors at Harvard University to publish scientific articles that reached an incorrect conclusion about the role of sugar. In the US, people are reducing their intake of soft drinks high in sugar, but the country still has an obesity issue. It is even declared an epidemic.

The Indian middle-class is beginning to be obese now. I often see Indian grandmothers at airports who are obese but it's the younger generation joining in now. As chief minister, N T Rama Rao had a big programme to give rice at Rs 2 a kilo. But if he had limited that to whole-grain rice, he would have done better for the poverty-stricken people of the state. Apart from the country being obese, it is also vitamin deficient. Gandhi served only brown rice at the ashram even though he didn't eat rice. He was ahead of his time!

Who is Mark?
Mark Lindley is a noted economist, musicologist and historian. He studied at Harvard University, Juilliard School of Music and Columbia University. He is a visiting professor at some Indian universities. He is the author and co-author of about 15 books and more than 100 scholarly articles. He has given musical lecture-demonstrations in Bengaluru and Hyderabad.


Symposium on evidence-based nutrition in the prevention and management of diabetes

Mar 20,2018

A symposium on ‘Evidence-based nutrition in the prevention and management of diabetes’ will be held at IOE Auditorium, Vigyan Bhavan in Manasagangotri in the city on Wednesday.

Organised by Department of Studies in Food Science and Nutrition, University of Mysore, in association with Indian Dietetic Association, Mysuru Chapter, the symposium seeks to throw more light on scientific evidence based nutrition recommendations and clinical practices for management of diabetes.

“Nutrition principles and recommendations for managing diabetes and related complications have been based on scientific evidence and knowledge when available and when evidence is not available, it is based on clinical experience and expert consensus,” said Asna Urooj, chairperson, Department of Studies in Food Science and Nutrition, University of Mysore.

“At times, it has been difficult to discern the level of evidence used to construct the nutrition principles and recommendations. Furthermore, in clinical practice, many nutrition recommendations that have no scientific supporting evidence have been and are still being given to individuals with diabetes,” Dr. Urooj said in a statement adding that evidence-based nutrition recommendations attempt to translate research data and clinically applicable evidence into nutrition care.

The symposium seeks to address these problems and sensitise students, faculty and practitioners of nutrition and dietetics about the evidence based nutrition in prevention and management of diabetes.

Delegates from JSS College, Yuvaraja’s College, Maharanis Science College, Manasagangothri campus, members of Indian Dietetic Association, doctors, practicing dieticians etc will attend the symposium.

Experts participating in the symposium include M.A. Shekar, Karnataka Institute of Diabetology, Bengaluru; Uliyar V Mani, former Director, WHO Collaborative Centre, Vadodara; K. Srinivasan, retired CFTRI scientist; M.S. Varsha Koppikar, clinical dietician, Bengaluru; Sudha Sairam, research associate, St. Johns Research Institute, Bengaluru; Vivek Srivastav from Fresenius Kabi, a healthcare company; and Sebastian Bani from Sami Labs, among others.

Even after treatment, we stay in touch with the patients: Dr T S Sridhar

Oct 19,2017

In an interview with ETHealthworld, Dr T S Sridhar, Head, Division of Molecular Medicine, St John's Research Institute, Bengaluru, talks about his understanding and approach towards breast cancer management. Edited excerpts:

Please share your understanding of breast cancer in India and how it differs from that of the West?

My interest in breast cancer has been over the last 10 years and it arose from a common refrain I heard when I returned to India after having finished my training in the US, which was that breast cancer in Indian women is different from breast cancer in Caucasians western women.

While at the face of it this seemed to be true, we wanted to understand this at three different levels as to what the differences were due to the cultural differences between India and the west. Next was the demographic difference. India is a very young country versus the western populations and third and most importantly from the point of view of treatment whether there were real biological differences between the breast cancer in India women versus the western so that is what got us started about 100 years ago.

How is your approach to breast cancer different from others?

We started off by establishing breast cancer support group called the Adhara which was manned by young trained medical counsellors who were able to first meet with the patient and their family, establish a rapport and get to know the social economic background in which these women were embedded, and then get to know their actual challenges in going through the treatment.

We then work very closely with the pathologists and then the medical doctors. The most important thing is that we stayed in touch with these patients. Our approach was socio cultural, demographic as well as the biologic differences in breast cancer in Indian women compared to what we already knew about breast cancer in western women.

Your observation?

It was known that breast cancer in India happens on an average of about 10 years earlier than breast cancer in western women. It is about 60 years the median means half of all women with breast cancer in the west have it after the age of 60 and in India it is a decade earlier which is 50. So, half of all women in India are under the age of fifty.

We confirmed the finding and in India it is actually happening earlier. But, if you look at the demographics of US - the nation where I worked and for which I know the statistics, the median age of women in the US is a little after 35 and if you look at the median age of Indian women it is now about 28 years, so the population itself is left shifted, meaning we are a younger population.

We have far more younger women compared to the west and so the demographics is part of it. Socio-cultural norm that doesn’t not allow a women to speak about a lump in her breast have actually been persistent despite being exposed to higher education. It is truly a cultural problem and the way to deal with this obviously as a consequence is to attack it at its roots

Is Indian breast cancer more aggressive in nature?

Whether the tumour was ER negative or ER positive, its behaviour was independent of ethnicity. An ER positive tumour in western woman, Asian woman, Japanese woman or an Indian woman behaves the same way. So because we have more ER negative tumours they think Indian breast cancer is more aggressive which is not correct. Breast cancer aggression is related to its biology, if it is ER negative it is more aggressive and if it is ER positive it is more manageable. So that was a very important thing that we established.

Third thing that we found was most of the patients were treated with standard surgery radiation and chemotherapy. In the general ward all of this adds up to about 2-3 lakh rupees in Bangalore today in a private setup. The outcome of all treated patients if they come to the doctor early, meaning before stage one and stage two, they are now doing just as well as people treated anywhere else in the world.

Impact of your research?

Our research has not directly impacted patient care in the short run however what we have done because we did the molecular genetic analysis of these tumours, we have developed certain tests which now permit us to put these women into categories, subcategorize them, people who might respond to one therapy better than the other and who might have a propensity for the disease to spread. These tests are actually in development and it is likely that they will be available for patients.


Why are youngsters without any risk factors ending up with heart disease? Jayadeva ties up with St. John’s Research Institute and Centre for Human Genetics to study the cause

Sep 27,2017

Last month, doctors at Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences were taken aback when a 23-year-old daily wager, who presented himself with complaints of chest pain, sweating and giddiness, was diagnosed with a heart attack.

What surprised the doctors was the fact that he did not have any conventional risk factors or a family history of heart attack. A few weeks ago, the doctors had seen a 19-year-old student, who had just started smoking, landing up with a similar problem.

These are not one-off cases. An analysis of 700 patients, including women aged below 40, who were treated at the hospital in the last nine months, revealed that over 40% of the cases did not have any conventional risk factors or family history. The analysis clearly indicated that the incidence of heart disease is increasing among the young, even among those who do not have any risk factors.

Prompted by this and wanting to study why even those without any risk factors are landing up with cardiovascular diseases, the hospital has now tied up with St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI) and the Centre for Human Genetics (CHG). The study titled ‘Premature coronary artery disease - heart attack in the young’ has been undertaken by a team of four assistant professors of cardiology - Rahul Patil, Lakshmi Shetty, Satvik Manjunath, and Vijay Kumar - led by institute Director C.N. Manjunath.

The memorandum of understanding for the study was signed by Dr. Manjunath, CHG Director Sharath Chandra, and SJRI dean Tony D.S. Raj in the presence of Medical Education Minister Sharanprakash R. Patil at a programme on Tuesday. This is in the run-up to World Heart Day that is observed on September 29.

Explaining the cause of heart attacks in the young, Dr. Manjunath said some people have an excessive tendency for clot formation in their bodies.

“This is called hypercoagulable state. In our hospital, we are seeing at least five to six people aged below 25 in a year with problems related to hypercoagulable state and we are concerned about this trend,” he said.

The study will focus on finding out whether there are any new risk factors emerging in youngsters (who do not have any conventional risk factors). A genetic analysis will be done to study whether there are any genetic mutations that are increasing the risk for heart attacks, the doctor explained.

An emerging risk

Apart from conventional risk factors such as diabetes, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, stress and family history, increasing air pollution is turning out to be a new risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.

“Inhaling polluted air is nothing but urban smoking, and is as bad as smoking. The incidence of heart attacks is three to five times more in smokers than in non-smokers,” Dr. Manjunath said.

Pointing out that an increasing number of auto-rickshaw drivers and traffic policemen were now being treated at the hospital, the doctor said, “Polluted air contains hydrogen suphide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ozone. Besides, rampant garbage burning that includes plastic and rubber material is only adding to the air pollution. While other countries have already woken up to tackle air pollution, there needs to be a concerted effort by authorities to check this problem here.”



Successful trial conducted on anaemic school children fed with Iron fortified wheat flour

Aug 11,2017

Rapid fire:

  • Forty percent of the world’s children in their school going years are reported to be anaemic
  • Flour fortification with iron (Fe) is the cost effective & sustainable way in reducing the prevalence of anaemia.
  • Wheat is currently the primary staple food for nearly one-third of the world’s population
  • NaFeEDTA-fortified whole wheat flour fed children showed significant improvements in iron status by the end of the study

Iron status indicators of children fed with iron fortified wheat flour showed significant improvements by the end of the study conducted at St John’s Medical College and Research Institute, Bangalore.

Iron deficiency (ID) and iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) are widespread globally. Forty percent of the world’s children in their school going years are reported to be anaemic and cereal flour fortification with iron (Fe) is the most cost effective and sustainable way in reducing the prevalence of ID and IDA. Wheat is currently the primary staple food for nearly one-third of the world’s population and forms the major cereal food consumed by the people living in Northern India.

Wheat flour fortification with elemental iron is technically challenging, primarily due to poor absorption from elemental iron and the presence of phytic acid. Sodium iron ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (NaFeEDTA) is a unique fortificant, since it protects Fe from the phytic acid present in foods by binding more strongly to ferric Fe at the pH of the gastric juice in the stomach and then exchanging the ferric (Fe) for other metals in the duodenum as the pH rises. It is two-to-four fold more bio-available than ferrous sulphate, particularly in meals with high phytate content, thereby making it ideal for use in wheat flour.

A randomised controlled study (RCT) was carried out by St. Johns’s Medical College, Bangalore to test if NaFeEDTA-fortified whole wheat flour could reduce ID and improve body iron stores (BIS), and iron parameters. Iron deficient (ID) school children (6-12 year old, n=401) were randomly assigned to either a daily wheat-based lunch meal fortified with 6 mg of iron as NaFeEDTA (as chappatis or dosa), or an otherwise identical unfortified control meal. Haemoglobin (Hb) and iron status were measured at baseline, 3.5, and 7 months.

Sensory assessments showed wheat flour fortified with NaFeEDTA was not different in appearance, taste, colour or texture from non-fortified wheat flour, and children consumed all the meals provided over the study period. Over 7 months, the prevalence of ID and IDA in the treatment group significantly decreased from 62% to 21% and 18 % to 9%, respectively. Iron status indicators such as Hb, serum ferritin, transferrin receptor, zinc protoporphyrin and BIS showed significant improvements by the end of the study (all P less than 0.0001). Testing of urinary zinc over the trial period showed that NaFeEDTA did not affect urinary zinc excretion. As per FSSAI standards, NaFeEDTA, due to its better bioavailability, can be fortified to a lower level than other iron salts in atta, maida or rice to a level of 14-21.25 mg/Kg.


She did it anyway

Apr 02,2017

History tells us the first women healers, oppressed and short of power over their own destinies, transitioned from the zenana to university halls with obstinacy and personal brilliance.

Sex ratios in medical schools have now decidedly tipped to the female side. And a fair amount of work ­ by institutions and individuals ­ has gone into reaching this point of overturning. Until the 1900s women were not allowed to see male doctors when sick, leave alone study medicine. “In the public mind, very little is known about the so-called native women who were trained in western medicine and then graduated to work in what was a man's world, and still is, at least, in some branches of medicine,“ says Dr Mario Vaz, Professor, Department of Physiology, and head in-charge of History of Medicine at St John's Medical College in Bengaluru. He is delivering a talk about the personal histories of early pioneering physicians at the Bangalore International Centre at 6.30pm on April 7.

There was Anandibai Joshi, born in 1865, who fought to be educated. As an eight-year old she told her parents that if she had no education, she'd no reason to live. “It's remarkable,“ says Dr Vaz, “she follows her tutor from a village in Maharashtra to Thana and ultimately marries him. She wished to study medicine at the first women's medical college for women in Philadelphia but leaving home for the West had its taboos. Her grandmother offered to accompany her. She eventually did go to America and completed medicine. She returned to India but within a year, she was dead of tuberculosis. She couldn't achieve what she set out to do.“

There was Kadambini Ganguly born in 1861, the first female trained in western medicine in South Asia (at Women's College, Calcutta), and possibly the whole of the British Empire. She graduated the same year as Joshi did in America. But she took a licentiate which was a lower qualification than a degree, “she works for many years and soon there are many like her. These women have the real need to prove they were not there just because they were women of means, of unique circumstances. But they were smart. They may be the only woman in the class but they'd top. Their presence shocked people. They were able to deal with anything. They were inspired in that sense.“

There was Rukhmabai who is still talked about in contemporary legal circles. Married at 12 years-old, her husband came to fetch her when she reached menarche but she refused to go and fought for divorce. She became instrumental in the enactment of the Age of Consent, 1891. She studied medicine in England and practiced as a physician for many years in Surat. Muthulakshmi Reddi was the first to enter a men's college to study medicine.

He believes these stories need to be reclaimed, and the history of medicine made less event and politics-driven. In fact these women were so driven because of episodes in their lives. For instance, the death of a sibling, or a child. It was a time when many women died in childbirth along with their newborns. “Only women were seen as fit to deal with `women's problems' or childbearing. It was as though they didn't have problems that men did,“ says Dr Vaz. Only daiis, or midwives, many very ably, handled women's illnesses.

Until recently at St John's, there was a conscious split down the centre when each class took 30 boy and 30 girl candidates. But now with open admissions there are more women getting through. “The initial division was to ensure that enough women were getting an education. Now the division is gone. We have increased our strength to 150 students of whom 90 are women,“ says Dr Vaz, smiling. To fully understand what problems women have faced historically, it is important to understand how western medicine developed: The old European universities always had medical schools attached to them, “the physician there was really a liability. He would have read the classics, Greek, Latin. He'd know astronomy. He'd know everything but medicine. And this is the gender construct of how Western medicine developed. The courts, the monarchy always had a physician. But it was probably the women who did the healing. They were herbalists and midwives who learned empirically through the generations but their main methods were bleeding or cauterising. Still, they did better than medieval physicians who lectured their patients with discourses that had no bearing on their health. They dismissed women healers as engaging in witchcraft, sorcery and quackery. At the height of the inquisitions these women were even punished.“

Women, for instance, considered childbirth a natural process, “a midwife would watch and wait and let the woman deliver her baby of her own accord. Physicians would intervene, they would monitor her progress at labour and in the process, because the germ theory had not emerged and handwashing wasn't a habit ­ we lived in the time of humours ­ they were transferring infections from one person to another between examinations. As a result what was called child-bed fever was extremely high in wards managed by men and extremely low when managed by women. Men would over-intellectualise ­ or intellectualise in quotes ­ because they had very little real understanding, anyway. Women would come in perfectly healthy, have a child and three days later die because of what we know today as sepsis or infection which spreads into the bloodstream. As part of doctors' duties they had to do postmortems, too, and straight after doing those they would return to wards.“

In India, as in the rest of the world, the first lot of women wanting to study western medicine lived in the Victorian era and were frequently upper class and could not soil their hands by touching poor people. Or they were considered too delicate to be doctors. The same society didn't mind poor women working in mines, for instance, or do everything menial that men could.

Women were educated but hardly ever in the sciences, maybe arithmetic because that enabled them to look after their home accounts or inheritance matters, as long as it did not necessitate their leaving the house. “There was the concept of the zenana,“ he says, “this private space the westerner could not fully understand. It was demonised as a place of intrigue. These were the circumstances for women's medical care provision in the 19th century.“

Health alert: ‘20.7% of Bengaluru children overweight or obese’

Feb 03,2017

The hours spent cooped up in classrooms and in front of electronic gadgets was bound to have an effect: A cross-sectional screening of nearly one lakh children across schools in Bengaluru has shown that almost 20.7% were either overweight or obese, and 13.3% at risk of developing lifestyle diseases in adulthood.

The results of the screening, conducted by healthcare startup, AddressHealth, between January and December 2016, tie in with a 2015 study conducted by researchers from St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI).

According to the study led by Rebecca Kuriyan, associate professor in clinical nutrition and lifestyle management, SJRI, which sampled 1,913 schoolchildren in Bengaluru, high obesity indicators were associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure.

“More than obesity, the levels of overweight children had increased in the last few years in both research and clinical practice,” said Dr. Kuriyan, who has been studying childhood obesity for several years. “A waist-to-height ratio greater than 0.5 puts them at risk of hypertension and other lifestyle diseases in adulthood. Measuring this ratio is an inexpensive initial screening tool that everyone can use,” Dr. Kuriyan said. She added that armed with this information, parents could make positive lifestyle changes like increasing physical activity and inculcating healthy eating habits, which would protect children in the future.

The AddressHealth survey included a equal number of children from private schools ranging from affordable (where fees are less than ?15,000 a year) to expensive schools (where fees was more than ?45,000 a year). “The aim is to bring preventive healthcare to parents, so that they understand the need to instil healthy habits in their children,” said Anand Lakshman, founder of AddressHealth. “If we can identify health problems at a young age and take corrective measures early on, we will be making an investment in their future well-being,” he added.

The screening threw up other startling results too. Nearly 30% of the children needed some kind of dental intervention, and 13.6% had vision problems.


St. John's Research Institute Re-designated as an IAEA Collaborating Centre

Jan 06,2017

The International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations has renewed and re-designated St. John’s Research Institute as their First and Only Nutrition Collaborating Centre in the World.  The Institute was first recognised in the year 2010 which has since been renewed from 2015 to 2019.

Dr. Anura Kurpad, who heads the Division of Nutrition, was responsible for this recognition for St. John’s.

More Information is available at:


Tales from the medical repository

Sep 23,2016

Tomorrow, INTACH will hold a walk-through of city’s long history of medicine and its practitioners

“We invite you for a special INTACH Parichay event on the history of medicine,” said a curiously worded event invite from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

It was an invitation to a walk-through (or ‘parichay’) planned by INTACH at the Maj. Gen. S.L. Bhatia Museum at the St. John’s Medical College (SJMC) campus on Saturday.

“Many a time, heritage and history go beyond structures and buildings,” says Meera Iyer, co-convener, INTACH, Bengaluru. “The items on display at the museum give an insight into world medical history.”

So what makes this museum so special? “The manuscripts, records and collectibles housed there, which include an original print of A History of Medicine by Parke Davis, received in 1968, original archives of Maj. Gen. Bhatia from 1920s to 1960s, correspondence with Nobel laureate A.V. Hill, and original physicians’ costumes, are priceless,” says Radhika Hegde, curator of the museum and lecturer at St. John’s.

Maj. Gen. Bhatia, who served as Director-General of Health Services, retired in Bengaluru and wanted to create a museum to preserve his immense collection of medical memorabilia.

Tumultuous days

The records at the museum trace the history of medicine through the ancient time of unwritten practices in Europe and the raw surgical methods of the Greek physician Galen, who tested them on animals first. Compared to the dark medieval ages of Europe, many discoveries in medical treatment were made in Asian countries with plant derivatives, including Ayurveda in India, adds Ms. Hegde.

“The museum also contains century-old medical instruments, including a midwife kit, about 2,000 books assiduously collected by Maj. Gen. Bhatia, a multitude of photographs ... it is not just a medical student’s haven, but also a heritage lover’s paradise,” Ms. Hegde says.

“The parichay will not just take people around on an acclimatisation tour, but will also showcase the Bengaluru angle to fascinating medical discoveries,” says Mario Vaz, director of the museum.

The museum also chronicles the struggles faced by Maj. Gen Bhatia in setting it up. His vision did not end after a see-saw struggle with the State government fizzled out. In 1964, Maj. Gen Bhatia was appointed Professor Emeritus of History of Medicine at St. John’s Medical College. Along with the first dean of the medical college, L. Monteiro, and Y.P. Rudrappa (the then dean of Bangalore Medical College), he started an association of history of medicine in 1971. The museum was inaugurated on June 12, 1974.


Preserving for posterity

Sep 20,2016

The Major General SL Bhatia Museum for the History of Medicine in Bengaluru brings alive important stages in the journey of medicine through its exhibits that include models, instruments, photographs and costumes, writes Meera Iyer

The Black Death, the dreaded plague that swept through Europe in the 1300s, felled thousands, nay millions. Through the throngs of the dead and the dying, swept a figure, black-robed, hooded and masked. Where there should have been a nose, he had a prominent beak. His eyes were hidden behind large circles of glass and in one hand, he wielded a long cane.

This figure, who seemed verily a Shadow of Death, was in fact a plague doctor. His bizarre get-up was meant to protect him from the plague. The good doctor used the cane to prod his patients. His ‘beak’ was stuffed with sweet-smelling herbs like mint and rosemary. This was supposed to protect him from the ‘bad and putrid air’ that in the medieval period was thought to cause plague. Whether the robes and herbs protected the doctor, we cannot say for sure, but I heartily agreed with Dr Mario Vaz, professor of physiology and the history of medicine, when he said, “He probably cut a terrifying figure.” Even in the bright environs of a museum, the all-too-realistic model of a plague doctor, cane held aloft, beak and glass eyes in place, made me want to edge away.

Dr Mario is the director of the Major General SL Bhatia Museum for the History of Medicine, located in the verdant environs of the St John’s Medical College, Bengaluru. The museum is the centre around which the Department of the History of Medicine at St John’s Medical College works.

The museum is named after Major General S L Bhatia, the first Indian Dean of Grant Medical College in Mumbai (India’s third oldest medical college), a director general of health service for India, the only physician recipient of the Military Cross for services during World War I, and a recipient of the Order of the Empire. In the early 1960s, he bequeathed his archives and collections to St John’s Medical College, and in 1974, he helped establish the Museum of the History of Medicine, the first of its kind in India. With its collections growing over the years, it is still one of the largest and most comprehensive of such museums in the country.

What’s inside?

The museum has a number of exhibits that are sure to keep both young and old minds engaged. There are photographs, costumes, interesting instruments and models. Apart from these are a number of prints – all original second edition prints of paintings by Robert Thom, and produced by Parke-Davis and Company – depicting major episodes and personalities in the journey of medicine from the earliest times to today. Behind each exhibit lies a gripping tale.

Dr Mario is an ideal raconteur, bringing alive the emotions and drama behind the milestones in medicine. Using the picture of a surgery being performed, Dr Mario told the story of the advent of anaesthesia. The excruciating pain of surgery performed without anaesthesia meant that patients rarely, if ever, resorted to surgeons. Surgeons, meanwhile, had the unenviable task of operating on patients who screamed in agony. In the 1840s, a dentist conducted a demonstration of what was to be a pain-free surgery using nitrous oxide — laughing gas — as an anaesthetic. But the experiment failed. Midway through the operation, the patient cried out in pain, prompting observers to jeer, “Humbug!”

Two years later, another dentist named William Morton persuaded the chief surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital to try ether instead. This time, the patient remained unconscious throughout. At the end of the surgery, the tearful surgeon told his hushed audience the words that every anaesthetist now knows: “Gentlemen, this is no humbug.”

Naturally enough for a museum on medicine, there are some exhibits which might churn the stomachs of the lily-livered amongst us. One such exhibit that caught my attention was of a traditional Western midwife’s kit, comprising a series of lethal-looking needles, each about the length of my finger and running the gamut from curved to straight, and thick to thin. Also included in the kit was a glass catheter, an item apparently not used any longer because, as Dr Mario remarked drily, “they used to keep breaking.” Next to the kit was a clipping of an article from an old medical journal talking about the removal of a broken glass catheter from the bladder of a patient.

The museum highlights Indian advances in medicine too. Amongst these are panels about Dr Yellaparagada Subba, an Indian biochemist with several achievements to his name, including understanding the role of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in cells, and from the medical point of view, discoverer of antibiotics like the tetracycline drugs, in use even today. Dr Mario also enlightened us about the methods used by ancient Indian plastic surgeons, some of which are remarkably similar to modern procedures.

Even more fascinating were the traditional methods of inoculations against diseases like small-pox that Dr Mario and the museum’s curator, Radhika Hegde, informed us were in use even until the 1800s.

Though the museum was established in the 1970s, it has been open to the general public only from this month. According to Radhika, their primary goal is to reach out to schools, especially elementary and secondary school children, in the hope of enriching their learning. The Museum is not-for-profit and does not charge entry fee at present.

Visitors who would like to visit the museum may email Radhika Hegde at, or call 9632172577.


Babies to Don Wearable Tech

Aug 01,2016

India has one of the highest neonatal mortality rates and in the absence of adequate facilities in most rural hospitals, neonates may not receive timely care, which may lead to further health complications. To address this major problem, researchers from Robert Bosch Center for Cyber Physical Systems at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and St John's Research Institute (SJRI), both based in Bengaluru, have developed a wearable sensor, which picks up temperature abnormalities in newborn babies and transmits it remotely to the phone of a health worker or raises audible alarms for the family member to be alerted immediately, or if no corrective action is taken.

The first-of-its-kind sensor device and the back-end analytics system are undergoing a feasibility study and clinical trial currently among a few dozen mother-baby pairs from urban hospital settings in Bengaluru. The system is being tested for data capture-validation and alert response to the mother/village health worker/hospital. In the next phase, this device is proposed to be tested in rural settings of the country.

"The nenonatal monitoring device, which is strapped on to the baby's abdomen, is currently being tested by St John's Research Institute," said IISc Prof Bharadwaj Amrutur, who is working with Prof Prem Mony of SJRI, along with other researchers from both institutes.

"We are currently in the second phase of the tests, where we are testing the device in a controlled group of 100 mothers and babies at hospitals in Bengaluru. The aim is to ascertain how safe and comfortable it is for the baby. One-third of the target has been achieved. In the next phase, we will test the device in rural hospitals in Karnataka," Dr Mony, Prof of Epidemiology & Population Health, told Bangalore Mirror.

This technology is also useful for testing compliance with a simple method of care for preterm or low-birth-weight (LBW) infants called Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to WHO, Kangaroo mother care is care of preterm or LBW infants, carried skin-to-skin with the mother. It is a powerful, easy-to-use method to promote the health and well-being of infants born preterm as well as full-term. It is also a cost-effective method as compared to incubators or warmers used routinely.

"Some 20 million low-birth-weight (LBW) babies are born each year, because of either preterm birth or impaired prenatal growth, mostly in less developed countries. They contribute substantially to a high rate of neonatal mortality whose frequency and distribution correspond to those of poverty. LBW and preterm birth are thus associated with high neonatal and infant mortality and morbidity. Of the estimated 4 million neonatal deaths, preterm and LBW babies represent nearly a third, directly or indirectly. Therefore, the care of such infants becomes a burden for health and social systems everywhere. For many small preterm infants, receiving prolonged medical care is important. However, Kangaroo Mother Care is an effective way to meet baby's needs for warmth, breastfeeding, protection from infection, stimulation, safety and love," says a WHO study on KMC.

The device being tested by researchers in Bengaluru takes inspiration from KMC guidelines and measures the body temperatures of the baby and mother, as also the position of baby, that is the resting angle of baby.

According to 2014 estimates of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, about 27 per cent of all babies were born with low birth weight (LBW) in India. Experts said despite the fact that among the primary interventions available for care of low birth weight or prematurity in newborns, Kangaroo Mother Care is recognised as a high-impact and cost-effective intervention, it continues to be under-utilised in India. Accordingly researchers, including those from SJRI are looking at ways to close this implementation gap.

According to SJRI's website, two key project areas include "development of KMC sensor for position and temperature" and "accelerating scale-up of Kangaroo mother care." 


Not a rural phenomenon: Even Hyderabad children are malnourished

May 13,2016

Malnutrition among children is not only a rural phenomenon, it exists in Hyderabad too. A study conducted by four researchers from Tata Institute of Social Sciences-Mumbai, St. John’s Research Institute-Bengaluru and University of Hyderabad on malnutrition among adolescent students from government schools in Hyderabad has revealed this.

The study sample was small for the research – 197 participants comprising 84 males and 113 females aged between 12 and 17 years from 13 government schools in Hyderabad. It threw up shocking results.

The researchers found that 76.1 per cent of the students were malnourished, having Body Mass Indexes (BMI) of less than 18.5. The lowest recorded BMI was a dangerous 12.5.

As per the World Health Organisation, BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight and less than 16 is in the “severe thinness” category.

Only 22.8 per cent of the participants had normal BMI of between 18.5 and 24.99. Being overweight or obese, a rising concern associated with children in urban areas, was not a problem for most children from the government schools with only 1 per cent of the study sample having BMI above 25.

The researchers also tried to understand the socio-economic perspective to malnourishment. During research, the school children were defined the concept of pucca houses indicating higher economic strata and kaccha (temporary) houses, indicating lower economic strata. It was found that malnourishment was higher by 6 per cent among children who lived in kaccha houses.


Study could aid India's fight against low birth weight

Feb 14,2016

Also known as the afterbirth, the placenta is a unique organ that adapts to intrauterine environmental stressors such as maternal undernutrition to ensure optimal foetal growth. Nevertheless, we lack mechanistic understanding of the tipping point when the placental adaptation becomes pathophysiological [a condition typically observed during a disease state] leading to foetal growth restriction and low birth weight. This has immediate and delayed consequences since the foetal origins hypothesis proposes that the risk of developing non-communicable diseases in adulthood has a foundation in suboptimal foetal growth and small size at birth.

Considering that two-fifth of the low-birth weight babies in developing countries are born in India, it becomes crucial to understand the molecular pathways that mediate foetal adaptation to suboptimal intrauterine conditions in the Indian population comprising of multiple ancestries, cultures and associated food and lifestyle factors.

To be able to capture the range of variability of placental and birth correlates in a heterogenous population, the need of the hour is at-scale and systematic examination of the placentae. We have developed methods and are using them to collect and preserve placentae. Utilising the 400 placentae collected from our birth cohort, we are beginning to address questions related to the transcriptional and epigenetic control of genes in critical regulatory pathways in the placenta to understand the cause of foetal growth restriction.

Recent findings from our group’s work published in the journal Placenta indicate that the placental transcript abundance of an imprinted gene, growth receptor binding protein 10 (GRB10), is associated with human foetoplacental [pertaining to the foetus and placenta] growth in a gender-specific manner.

The long-term vision of our group is to systematically engage with the mechanistic basis of adaptation to nutritional and environmental exposures in the seemingly intractable problem of low-birth weight in India, with the eventual goal of informing sensible preventive strategies.

Mukhopadhyay is assistant professor, division of nutrition, St John's Research Institute, St John's National Academy of Health Sciences in Bengaluru.

Too much or too less: India battles body mass index blues

Feb 09,2016

A staggeringly large number of Indians in 15 states are either overweight or underweight, and suffer from anaemia, according to the latest release of National Family and Health Survey (NFHS 4). These states make up about 44% of the country's population. The survey was done in 2015.

Abnormal weight was measured by working out the body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of how much a person weighs relative to his/her height. A BMI less than 18.5 kg per square metre makes you underweight, while over 25 means you are overweight. Both conditions are caused by bad nutrition and result in bad health parameters.

An abnormal BMI is strikingly common among women across the 15 surveyed states, and it ranges from 24% in Meghalaya to a shocking 51% in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Even in Tamil Nadu, which otherwise shows better health parameters, 46% women report abnormal BMI. Among men, the same pattern is visible in these states but the proportions are slightly lower.

In poorer states like Bihar, the share of underweight population — 30% women and 25% men — is far higher than overweight people — 12% to 13%.

Conversely, in better off states like Haryana, 16% women and 11% men have low BMI, but 20% are overweight. There is a sharp urban-rural divide too, with higher numbers of overweight people living in urban areas.

Despite slight dips compared to the last survey in 2005-06, the proportion of adults in the 15-49 years age group suffering from anaemia is still very high among women, ranging around 45% in Karnataka to as high as 63% in high-income Haryana, among the big states.

Among men, it ranges from 15% in Telangana to 30% in West Bengal.


Why is such a large share of Indian population suffering from both abnormal weight and anaemia?

According to Anura Kurpad, professor of nutrition at St John's Research Institute, Bengaluru, the two problems are interlinked.

"A low BMI usually reflects energy deficiency. If all food intake is low, it is reasonable that the intake of micronutrients, like iron, will be low. This is compounded by the fact that Indian diets are already poor in diversity and consequently low in micronutrients anyway, and further, even inhibitory to their absorption. Eating lower amounts of this poor diet magnifies the risk of anaemia," he says.

"On the other side, a high BMI usually implies high body fat. Fat can release inflammatory signals that increase the level of hepcidin, which in turn inhibits iron absorption. In effect, anyone with a chronic inflammatory condition is at risk of low iron stores and fat mimics this," he adds.

Two types of issues — structural and income related — are causing this nutritional double whammy, according to Hemal Shroff, a public health specialist at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.

"Some of these structural issues are — excessive focus on wheat and rice production, increased availability of processed foods and sugary drinks, reduction in physical activities in urban areas, lack of government intervention in improving access to healthy foods, etc." she says. Poor incomes lead to people not having access to healthy foods, although many would argue that poor people make non-nutritive food choices, Shroff points out. She is also critical of the government for only "planning" interventions and not implementing them.


Chubby And Affluent: India’s New Face Of Malnutrition

Dec 07,2015

Broadening girths are expanding India’s battle against malnutrition, a new Indian study has revealed, setting off a host of so-called lifestyle ailments.

This is happening as India fights a losing battle with the bulge, hosting as it does the third-most number of obese people in the world, 61 million and growing.

Malnutrition is commonly associated with emaciated, undernourished people, not with being obese or overweight—or over-nourished, as it is called in dietary parlance.

Actually, the ‘over’ in over-nourished relates only to calories, or energy intake. Getting those excessive calories from fat- and sugar-rich, nutrient-poor foods can lead to significant micronutrient deficiencies in obese people, said Carlyne Remedios, senior nutritionist, Centre for Obesity and Digestive Surgery, Mumbai and co-author of the study published in August 2015 in the journal Obesity Surgery.

Of 2,740 people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) more than 30 kg/m2, the cut off for obesity, forming the study group, 43% suffered from iron deficiency, 56.7% from vitamin B12 deficiency, 11% from calcium deficiency, 35% from vitamin D3 deficiency and 10% from protein deficiency.

Micronutrient Deficiencies In Obese People In India

Micronutrient   Deficiency in obese people (%) Deficiency in general population (%)

Iron                        43           60-80

Vitamin B12         57           35-75

Calcium                 11           8-40.6

Vitamin D3           35           44-90

A new US study has arrived at a similar conclusion as Remedios. One in five obese patients of that study had insufficient levels of three or more of these micronutrients: vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E, iron, folate (vitamin B9) and thiamine (vitamin B1).

Clearly, abundance of food and nutrition are not synonymous.

Overweight Indians: Growing Almost As Fast As Malnourishment Is Contained

India’s new face of malnourishment is likely to belong to the urban and affluent, those who can afford to choose their diet.

Three times more obese and overweight people live in urban areas than in rural areas, as per the National Family Health Survey III. Their numbers are growing almost as fast as the number of undernourished Indians is being contained.


  • In 1990, 23.7% of India’s population was undernourished while 15.8% was over-nourished.
  • Today, 15.2% of the population is undernourished while 22% is over-nourished.

Diets Gone Awry Are Broadening India’s Girth

A 28-year-old man, 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighed 100 kg. His diet was overloaded with bad carbohydrates and bad fats, and low in protein. Severely obese, he complained of persistent body ache and pain in the thighs and around the knees. His vitamin B12 levels were low.

Investigations showed that the patient was suffering from vitamin D deficiency and high uric acid, findings that are “typical of overweight people”, said the consulting doctor Anil Arora, head of unit and lead consultant, Department of Orthopaedics, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj, Delhi.

A 13 year-old girl, 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighed 114 kg. She consulted a dietician for a weight-loss programme.

“Dietary assessment revealed she ate no vegetables, just high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods and a lot of meat, mostly chicken. Overall, her intake of calcium, iron and other micronutrients was low,” said Sherin Verghese, manager, dietetics, Malabar Institute of Medical Sciences, Kozhikode.

Blood tests showed the young teen to be borderline diabetic, despite her young age.

Research and the experience of dieticians across the country trace a clear correlation between faulty diets and excess weight.

A 2010 study in Gujarat compared the daily diet of overweight people and normal weight people. Overweight people were consuming almost 10% more grams of oil per day and 20% fewer grams of vegetables.

In a 2013 survey focussed on women conducted in Delhi, obese women identified fried food as the leading cause for their condition, while overweight women attributed excess weight to overeating.

“Most overweight and obese people consume a surfeit of energy-dense foods rich in saturated fats and simple sugars“, said Karishma Chawla, Mumbai-based nutritionist and founder, Eat Rite 24×7, a nutrition consultancy, “We call them empty calories for being nutrient poor.”

To add to this, metabolic changes associated with obesity can compromise the absorption of micronutrients from food.

Technically, obesity is a kind of inflammation, which research has shown impairs iron absorption or iron utilisation.

A recent Indian study at St. John’s Research Institute in Bengaluru showed that obese women face an increased risk of iron deficiency, and they also absorb less dietary iron.

“Research is yet to fully confirm but we believe that adipose (fat) impedes the utilisation of micronutrients—iron and potentially other micronutrients—by the tissues,” said Remedios.

From Fatness To Disease—Via Micronutrient Deficiencies

Raised BMI is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and stroke, the leading cause of death in 2012, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and some cancers—endometrial, breast, and colon, according to the World Health Organisation.

Less commonly reported is the association between obesity, nutritional deficiencies and disease.

A US study has traced a link between obesity, diabetes and deficiencies of vitamin D, chromium, vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin C.

A 2012 study of 1,765 North Indians diabetics, pegged the overall vitamin D deficiency rate at 76%. It identified progressively worse deficiency in those with higher BMI: 65% in those with BMI less than 23kg/m, 75% in those with BMI 23-27.5 kg/m and 81% in those with BMI greater than 27.5 kg/m.

This is highly plausible.

“Overweight people are at higher risk of developing vitamin D deficiency because the vitamin is fat-soluble, which means it gets stored or ‘locked up’, so to speak, in fat cells, with less available to the body for use,” said Seema Gulati, head of the Nutrition Research Group, Center for Nutrition & Metabolic Research (C-NET).

Conversely, when fat people lose weight, their serum vitamin D level may increase, said Gulati.

Lower vitamin B12 and folic acid levels are characteristic of hypertensive overweight and obese people as compared to hypertensive people of normal weight, according to a 2009 study in Mumbai. Even among people with normal blood pressure, those who were overweight or obese had lower vitamin B12 and folic acid levels than those of normal weight.

Why Watching Your Weight Is The Only Way Out—And Why It Is So Hard

Obesity can shave off up to eight and a half years of an adult male’s lifespan and six years of an adult female’s lifespan. Obese people also lose two to four times more healthy life years than a person of normal weight.

While that is reason enough to lose weight, shedding kilograms isn’t so easy.

In the last 33 years, no country has significantly reduced obesity, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.

With the prevalence of overweight people in India estimated to increase to 27.8% by 2030, and with the most population growth expected to occur in urban India where obesity is expanding the fastest, experts said public policy should focus on malnutrition at the other end of the spectrum—that presents its own challenges because in India, over- and under-nutrition are not simply a problem of the rich or the poor.

“Often, over- and under-nutrition overlap and coexist in the same household even in rural and periurban areas as a result of ‘urbanicity’,” said Sutapa Agrawal, epidemiologist, Public Health Foundation of India.

Dual burden households make public health interventions tricky.

Strategies to address under-nutrition—such as increasing household food supplies—could contradict obesity curtailment programmes while interventions to address obesity—like recommendations of a low fat diet—may adversely effect any underweight members, said Agrawal.

So what is the best way forward?

Catch them young before the fat creeps on: create awareness in children through school education programmes that simultaneously address both types of malnutrition, she said.

This article was originally published on, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.


Indian students are an indispensable part the British community: King's college Prez

Aug 20,2015

London's top college — the revered King's College, for the first time comes out in support of re-introducing post study work visa for students. The removal of the visa has resulted in a major dip in Indian students enrolling in British Universities. In an exclusive interview to TOI's London correspondent Kounteya Sinha, King's College president and principal Professor Edward Byrne who is embarking on his maiden visit to India says that bright, motivated Indian students are an indispensable part the British community and their presence in King's — in the heart of London significantly benefits British society, culture and economy. Indian students together are the third largest international student (undergraduate and postgraduate) body at King's with alumni like Sarojini Naidu and Khushwant Singh.

The Interview:

What is the main purpose of your visit?
This is my first trip to India as President and Principal of King's College London, a role I was appointed to in September 2014. This will be a fantastic opportunity for us to meet our partners from leading Indian institutions such as Delhi University, Lady Shri Ram College, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the Tata Memorial Cancer Centre, amongst many others, and to explore new opportunities for collaborations in education and research.

How important is India for King's and why?
India is a major part of our internationalisation programme, which aims to build long-term mutually beneficial relationships of educational exchange and collaboration. As such, India is a vital global partner and we are involved in a wide range of activities that aim to benefit society, here in India and worldwide.

We want to demonstrate that we are dedicated to attracting the best international minds from India, and build relationships with world-class institutions across the country.

Bright, motivated international students are an indispensable part the King's community and their presence in the heart of London significantly benefits our society, culture and economy. Our India Institute is a central part of King's international engagement and we are incredibly fortunate to have a great leader in Avantha Professor Sunil Khilnani.

Scotland and Scottish universities have called on Westminster to reintroduce the post study work visa so that Indian students can return to UK. So has several British universities. Would you want that too?

We are fully supportive of this and remain committed to welcoming Indian students to the UK and King's.

How important is an Indian student for the British coffer?
Bright, motivated Indian students are an indispensable part the King's community and their presence in the heart of London significantly benefits our society, culture and economy.

Have you had any distinguished Indian alumni at King's historically? Are you planning to may be have a India day in King's like university of Edinburgh has done?
India features continually in our college life. And we're very proud of our Indian alumni, not least among whom are Sarojini Naidu, the 'Nightingale of India', and Khushwant Singh. Singh, who sadly passed away recently, studied at King's 1934. He was awarded a Fellowship of King's College London in recognition of his exceptional achievements in the fields of literature and journalism.

Sarojini Naidu, the Indian independence activist, poet and former president of the Indian National Congress, had the chance to study at King's back in 1895 thanks to a scholarship she received — it's a good reminder of the immeasurable value to society a scholarship can deliver.

We have a thriving alumni branch in India of over 1300 people, many of whom are working in law, medicine, management, social sciences and education. I'm meeting some of our alumni on this visit and it's something I always relish. Our alumni are exceptional in whatever field they pursue their career and it's a real pleasure to meet them.

What major breakthroughs do you intend to achieve through this (like what tie ups do you want to finalise)?
We are very excited about collaborations in areas of health and medical research and we're keen to explore areas where we can work with Indian partners. King's is the largest centre for the education and training of healthcare professionals in Europe with pioneering research into the fields of cancer, neuroscience and mental health.

We are in dialogue with the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, with whom we hope to develop certificate courses in Health, at NEIGRIHMS (Shillong) and RIMS (Imphal), Institutes of national importance in India's North East.

During the visit, a member of the delegation from King's will also visit the India Institute of Science in Bangalore where we have some exciting research projects and meet the Dean of St John's Research Institute, our partner institution for the inaugural King's-Bangalore Summer School, where the certificate course in Infection & Immunity was launched in July 2015.

We have partnerships with Delhi University (DU) that includes an outstanding new disability programme, where, working with the Equal Opportunity Cell and the Disability Unit at King's, a group of disabled students from DU visit King's for an annual programme and vice versa.

Furthermore we have an exciting research partnership with the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC) in Mumbai which is addressing the challenge of delivering affordable cancer care for an ageing global population. In May 2015 we successfully launched a certificate course in Fundamentals of Oncology for both undergraduate and post graduate students, delivered by leading academics from King's and Tata Memorial Centre. 42 meritorious students were handpicked from Greater Mumbai's leading institutions to participate in this course at zero tuition fee. We are working to secure funding for this programme to enable it to continue for the next 3 years.

Have you been seeing a rise in Indian students enrolling in King's?
Indian students together are the third largest international student (undergraduate and postgraduate) body at King's. Numbers have increased, especially since we established our in-country presence. We have our offices with the UKIBC centres in in Mumbai and Delhi. With the expansion of our departments in Business and Engineering, we expect that number to rise further.

Since 2012, over 2000 students from 25 Indian cities have benefited from 2 week course programmes at our Summer Schools, which are partnered with some of India's leading institutions: Lady Shri Ram College (Delhi); HR College (Mumbai); Tata Memorial Centre (Mumbai); St John's Research Institution (Bangalore).

Around 63 Indian students have been provided with scholarships to attend the London Summer School at King's since 2012. Every year we welcome faculty and research staff from many institutions in India, including higher education, research and government, who come to meet their counterparts in King's, study there or enhance their professional skills.

Avantha Professor Sunil Khilnani directs our King's India Institute, a leading centre for the study of contemporary India that has become a destination for young researchers, with 30+ PhD students working across disciplines.

Many vice chancellors including those from Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh to name a few have spoken out against the present visa regime in UK which has seen a massive fall in Indian students going up UK. What is your opinion on it?
We are very much open to receiving students from India, and absolutely value the positive ethos they bring. We are working with the Government to improve visa conditions.

Students from India interested in applying to King's shouldn't be put off by the visa application process. We have a dedicated in-house team to help with visas and deal with any issues arising from UKBA. 


Tasty Biscuits to Replace Iron Pills

Dec 07,2014

Most pregnant women complain about the bad taste of iron tablets and the side effects that they cause. The adherence level of consuming these tablets is very low most times, resulting in many not taking the right dosage. This causes a high rate of maternal and neonatal deaths.

To beat this challenge, nutritionists at St John's Hospital are in the process of developing a biscuit that will replace these tablets. They are concentrating on making a food-based product that tastes good, has a nice flavour and increases absorption.

Pratibha Dwarkanath, nutrition lecturer at St John's Research Institute is heading the $2,70,000 project that is funded with Development Innovation Fund by Grand Challenges Canada through the Canadian government. About 14 contestants had applied for this challenge last year.

Dr Dwarkanath said, "We have set up a cohort of pregnant women at St John's Hospital and have decided to bake these biscuits that will have iron content as there is in pills. This was decided in the backdrop of increasing cases of anaemia in pregnant women, which affects the health of their children. This also leads to several complications in the child such as impaired psychomotor development and certain cognitive disabilities." The research project is carried out under the aegis of Dr AV Kurpad, Head, Department of Nutritionists, and NewYork based Violet Health Sciences. Right now the biscuits are being tested for bioavailability after which they will be tested on two groups of women.

"After the results of the bioavailability tests are out, we will test them on pregnant women. One group will be given placebo biscuits and the other these iron biscuits. After a specific interval of time, their haemoglobin levels will be tested to check the efficacy level of these biscuits," Dr Dwarkanath explained.

The institute had applied to Grand Challenges last year, which had the theme of Saving Brains that encourages bold ideas to improve global health. The grant was approved after the institute proposed this idea and decided to take up the project.

"Tackling anaemia is a big challenge in the Indian scenario where about 17 million people are given iron pills, yet 11 million do not take them and the adherence level is as low as 35 per cent. The pill is big and tastes metallic. They are generally given as supplements during pregnancy.

Aggressive marketing of the biscuit is likely to lead to its being used by previously non-adherent pregnant women resulting in increased iron store in newborns," Dr Dwarkanath added.

Iron Overdose in Non-Anaemic Women Can Affect Pregnancy

Dec 02,2014

It is linked to low birth weight, premature deliveries & intrauterine growth restriction.

She may be anaemic or not, but the good news about pregnancy anyway comes with large doses of iron supplement pills being prescribed - often as much as 100 mg per day. Although well-meaning, considering the huge national burden of anaemia among women - especially in rural areas - this practice may not actually be a good idea for healthy pregnant women after all!

A recent study by a group of doctors and students at St John's Medical College in Bengaluru revealed that excessive iron dosage among healthy, non-anaemic women could have an adverse effect not just on the pregnancy but also on the baby, born or unborn.

They say problems like low birth weight, premature birth and poor growth of the baby while in the womb (also called intrauterine growth restriction) may occur due to excess intake of iron. Dosage of iron, regardless of the haemoglobin level, was increased since 2013 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as part of the National Plus initiative because large number of women were diagnosed with anaemia especially in rural areas, leading to several maternal and child deaths.

The study was conducted on a sample size of 1,196 non-anaemic, healthy women. It was a part of the Obama-Singh Fellowship programme at St John's Hospital and has been published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition which is part of the Nature Group.

A cohort of non-anaemic pregnant women, who came to St John's Hospital, was studied. The women were aged between 17 and 40 and were free from any chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, heart and thyroid diseases.

The principal investigators for the study were two final-year MBBS students, Pooja Mishra and Lisha Shastri from St John's Medical College who were among the first batch of students who were part of the research programme. They were guided by Dr Pratibha Dwarkanath, lecturer, division of nutrition, Dr A V Kurpad, professor and head, department of nutrition, St John's Research Institute.

The students were also invited to Harvard's School of Public Health as part of the exchange programme where they further analysed the study for three months.

The other investigators for the study included T Thomas, C Duggan, C M McDonald and A V Thomas.

Explaining the motive behind the study, Mishra said, "In India, there's a large burden of anaemia, which is why as per the national guidelines it was decided on a high dosage and all the doctors have to go by that rule. But the WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends a dosage of 60 mg and the same is followed in European countries and the level of iron is very good for women in these countries. The supplements are usually started in the second trimester (between third and sixth month) of pregnancy." The dosage was measured by interviewing the women on the amount they consumed and the study had some interesting revelations.

Based on the outcome it was seen that women who took their iron tablets dedicatedly without missing them were twice at risk of having babies with low birth weight as compared to people who took a lower dosage.

Shastri said, "There have been studies done across the world and in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, where the results are similar. That suggests that there is a need to decrease the dosage of iron among non-anaemic women. Iron in high daily doses could be responsible for cellular damage through oxidative stress. This needs to be balanced with sufficient anti-oxidants which can be obtained from fruits rich in Vitamin C. The dosage of iron varies from one individual to another which is why there cannot be a standardised dosage that can be fixed for everyone."


Ann Sarah Koshy, a Bangalore doctor is Obama-Singh fellow

Jun 28,2014

Ann Sarah Koshy is happiest pulling out sticky, wailing babies into the world. For her, delivering the bundles of poor women and sharing their joys matters most. Now, the young intern with a rural hospital off Sarjapur Road is off to Harvard University to research how Vitamin B12 helps in neonatal growth.

Ann, 22, who completed MBBS at St John's Hospital, Bangalore, is the recipient of the Obama-Singh 21st-Century Knowledge Initiative. This fellowship was planned as a part of US aid in Indian education when President Barack Obama came to India in 2010. Ann was one among 10 students selected for the research mentorship.

"It hasn't sunk in yet. I can't believe they would approve my research and allow me to do a course in global nutrition," she told TOI.

Ann, though, never wanted to be a doctor. She recalls, "When I was selected to give a farewell day speech in school, I saw my mother walk out to attend a surgery while other parents listened to me in rapt attention. I told myself I'd never become a doctor. I haven't got enough of my parents because both are doctors. But I don't know why I gave up maths and studied MBBS, though I scored 99 in mathematics and 95 in biology. I wanted to be an astronaut but they broke my heart when they said I was short."

It was in 2008 that St John's Research Institute was chosen under this initiative, and tied up with National Institute of Health, USA.

Ann's mother Dr Annamma Thomas is professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, and father Dr Reji Koshy Thomas is professor of ophthalmology at St John's Hospital. She owes her leadership skills and go-getter attitude to her father. "I was the first woman general secretary of the students' association in St John's College. I knew I had to break the glass ceiling. I like my job in hospital as I'm the resident doctor and have to take my own decisions," she added.

At Harvard, Ann will research how vitamin B12 can boost neurological development in a foetus. As a prelude, she's begun research on 300 pregnant women in Bangalore, across economic strata, and treated 150 of them with vitamin B12 supplements. She plans to compile the research at Harvard in the next six weeks. She also applied for a course in clinical epidemiology and audit course on global nutrition which the US varsity has accepted.

Missed by nurses, patients
Karunapalyam, the rural hospital off Sarjapur Road where Ann Sarah Koshy works, is going to miss their only resident doctor. "Nurses say they're sad as they won't have a doctor for the next six weeks. But I've promised to come back and complete my internship. My patients also look on me to bring them better service," says Ann. 


FAO Expert Meet - St. John's Research Institute, Bangalore 2014

Mar 07,2014

If you think Indians have a balanced diet, you may be wrong. But the blame cannot be pinned on junk food alone. The problem lies with policies of the government which don’t encourage the growth of pulses, an expert working group of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) observed.
The team was at the St John’s Research Institute from March 2-5 to evaluate the quality of protein in the diet of Indians.
“The best approach for optimal health and well-being is to prioritize protein quality so that we eat neither more nor less than what we really need, and spend wisely on protein-rich food,” said the FAO team. The team is evaluating staple diets of people from various countries and coming up with a report on how to make them protein sufficient. The report focuses on measuring protein quality in foods from animal and plant sources.
Speaking to TOI, Dr Anura V Kurpad, head of nutrition, St John’s Research Institute, and president, Nutrition Society of India, said some dietary surveys have shown that Indians mainly get proteins from serials, pulses and milk. “Consumption of rice and wheat, a major component of the Indian diet, has limited the quality of amino acids. Pulses, milk and meat are rich in quality proteins. But over the decades, the production of pulses has decreased. The Food Security Bill has ignored the importance of pulses and thereby this rich source of protein is missing from the platter. Agricultural policies have to look into these concerns,” said Anura, who worked with the FAO team. According to him, there is need to define the protein quality in food sources.
J Albert, nutrition officer, FAO, who is stationed in Rome, said, “The Italian diet is one of the healthiest. “Vegetables, fruits, fish and olive oil, sources of quality proteins, are major components of staple Italian food. Being an American and having lived in Italy for the past 20 years, I find that Italians follow a nutritious diet. Wealthy countries consume excess of meat proteins, which is not a good sign. A case in point is the increasing incidence of obesity in the US,” she said.
It was in its meeting in 2011 that FAO decided to conduct a research on protein quality in human diet. “We are currently in the process of collecting data from various countries. Just as rice is widely grown and consumed in India, corn is given way too much importance in African countries. Good quality proteins are also missing from the African diet,” said Dr Warren Lee, FAO representative.


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'SuperMum' campaign results in startling improvements in handwashing

Feb 27,2014

An analysis of a unique handwashing campaign shows for the first time that using emotional motivators, such as feelings of disgust and nurture, rather than health messages, can result in significant, long-lasting improvements in people's handwashing behaviour, and could in turn help to reduce the risk of infectious diseases.

An evaluation of the SuperAmma ('SuperMum') behaviour-change intervention, published in the 'Lancet Global Health' journal, shows that six months after the campaign was rolled out in 14 villages in rural India, rates of handwashing with soap increased by 31 per cent, compared to communities without the programme, and were sustained for 12 months.

"Every year, diarrhoea kills around 800,000 children under five years old. Handwashing with soap could prevent perhaps a third of these deaths," explains study author Dr Val Curtis, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). "Handwashing campaigns usually try to educate people with health messages about germs and diseases, but so far efforts to change handwashing behaviour on a large scale have had little success. Understanding the motivating factors for routine handwashing is essential to any initiative likely to achieve lasting behaviour change."

In this cluster-randomised community trial, researchers from the LSHTM and St John's Research Institute, with communications consultants Centre of Gravity in Bangalore, India, tested whether a scalable village intervention designed to increase handwashing with soap in southern Andhra Pradesh, India, was successful in bringing about behavioural change.

The intervention adapted an open access global toolkit developed by the same team, and targeted emotional drivers found to be the most effective levers for behaviour change: disgust (the desire to avoid and remove contamination), nurture (the desire for a happy, thriving child), status (the desire to have greater access to resources than others), and affiliation (the desire to fit in).

From 57 eligible villages – with populations of 700–2000 people, a state-run primary school and a preschool – 14 villages were selected and randomly assigned to receive the intervention or no intervention. As part of the SuperAmma intervention, promoters put on community and school-based events involving animated films, comic skits, and public pledging ceremonies during which women promised to wash their hands at key occasions and to help ensure their children did the same.

Observed rates of handwashing with soap at key moments (after toilet use, before food handling, or after cleaning a child) were measured in a random sample of 25 households in each village at the start of the study and at three subsequent visits (six weeks, six months, and one year after the intervention).

At the start of the study, handwashing with soap was rare in both the intervention and control groups (1 per cent and 2 per cent respectively). After six weeks, handwashing was more common in the intervention group (19 per cent vs 4 per cent), and after six months, handwashing in the intervention group had increased to 37 per cent compared with 6 per cent in the control group. One year after the campaign, and after the control villages had received a shortened version of the intervention, rates of handwashing with soap were the same in both groups (29 per cent).

According to study co-author Katie Greenland, from the LSHTM, "The SuperAmma campaign appears to be successful because it engages people at a strong emotional level, not just an intellectual level, and that's why the behavioural change was long-lasting. Whether the observed increase in handwashing with soap is sufficient to reduce infection remains unclear, but in view of our promising results, public health practitioners should consider behaviour change campaigns designed along the lines of our approach."

In a linked comment piece, Elli Leontsini and Peter J Winch from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, USA, caution: "The level of handwashing uptake achieved for key occasions post-intervention was comparable to that of other studies… and might not be high enough to have an effect on public health. Creation of a more enabling environment by means of multiple conveniently placed and replenished handwashing stations in and around the home might be needed to achieve a higher, more effective, increase in handwashing with soap at key occasions."

This study was funded by the Wellcome Trust and UK aid from the Department of International Development (DFID) as part of the SHARE research programme.

Study finds lack of vitamin B-12 may trigger low birth weight

Jan 07,2014

Low birth weight and consequent high infant mortality rate (IMR) have been hounding Indian mothers for a long time. One reason behind the high number of children born with low weight in India could be deficiency of vitamin B-12 during pregnancy, a group of researchers from Bangalore and USA have concluded in a decade-long study.
The study, ‘High folate and low vitamin B-12 intakes during pregnancy are associated with small-for-gestational age infants in South Indian women,’ was published in the December 2013 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The study conducted during a span of about 10 years at the St. John’s Research Institute by an international research team headed by nutritionist Pratibha Dwarkanath suggests that “consumption of high-folate supplements coupled with low vitamin B-12 intake during pregnancy may be a problem at least in India (where vitamin B-12 intake is generally quite low due to vegetarianism)”.
Vitamin B-12 plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and in the formation of blood. Only bacteria and archaea have the enzymes required for its synthesis.
A team of researchers from Bangalore and the US studied the diet of over 2,000 pregnant women between 17 and 40 years of age in their first trimester of pregnancy for 10 years. The team studied the food composition of these women, along with their intake of folate (folic acid) and vitamin B-12. Use of nutritional supplements was also recorded. These data were then related to measures of infant health such as duration of pregnancy and birth weight.
Dr. Anura V Kurpad, Professor and HOD, Nutrition, St. John’s Research Institute, said: “Babies born with low birth weight are a major problem in India, which needs to be taken care of. The research was undertaken to figure out the root cause of this problem, as it can lead to high risk of IMR and chronic diseases when the child grows up.”
Being vegetarians, most Indians are already low on vitamin B-12, said Dr. Kurpad. “It is, therefore, important for a gynecologist to prescribe not only folate, but also vitamin B-12 to pregnant women. Non-vegetarians can consume the required dose of vitamin B-12 from their diet, but for vegetarians, the only source of this vitamin is milk and its products.” He suggested that a vegetarian woman should consume at least 500mL of milk or milk products everyday during pregnancy to fulfil the minimum requirement of vitamin B-12.
Senior gynecologist and former Health Director of Karnataka, Dr. B Dhanya Kumar, said: “Vitamin B-12 is important to control low birth weight and premature birth. Pregnant women with high deficiency of B-12 are also prescribed injections.”
Vitamin B-12 plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain.


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Mobile App to Identify Domestic Violence

Dec 05,2013

A new mobile application will identify clinical signs of domestic violence in victims. The app will be launched by the Soukhya project which is working to tackle the problem for the past three years. 
Soukhya which was jointly implemented by Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike’s Health department in collaboration with St John’s Research Institute, Research Triangle Institute and Dimagi Inc., is already working on the initial implementation of the application.
The application called ‘Commcare’ has been developed by a company named Dimagi based in Boston and is active so far in the east, west and south zones of Bangalore.  This application allows a nurse or a doctor to register a woman who shows symptoms of domestic violence, screen her for causes and once screened, make the adequate referrals. Once a case is identified, a message is sent.

Indian, German Scientists to Work Together for TB Eradication

Dec 05,2013

Even as tuberculosis (TB) cuts a swathe through the country, efforts are being made to curtail the spread of the disease and offer succour to sufferers.
As part of the overall campaign, the St John’s Research Institute in the City has announced its decision to work with world-renowned scientist-immunologist, Prof Stefan H E Kaufmann, Director of the Department of Immunology at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, in fine-tuning a BCG vaccine that Kaufmann has developed against the disease. Dr . John Kenneth will head the clinical research work from Bangalore.
Speaking to Deccan Herald, Kaufmann said St John’s Institute will be active in the clinical part of vaccine development, while the Max Planck Institute will concentrate on basic research. “The institute in Bangalore will screen patients and obtain data of their health status and interact with us on the basis of that data. Together, we will combine their practice with our theoretical research to strengthen the vaccine that has been developed.” Kenneth told this newspaper that St John’s would be doing translational research — where doctors contribute to basic research by working with patients. “We are the only translational research institute in the country and we would be proud to contribute to the vaccine against TB.”
The St John’s Institute will also assist the Max Planck Institute by identifying biomarkers in the blood of patients to discover whether a patient is diseased or not. Identifying bio-markers is part of clinical activity. Once the markers are identified, the data is passed on to basic researchers who may re-examine their theories.

45th National Conference of the Nutrition Society of India (NSI)

Nov 23,2013

The 45th National Conference of the Nutrition Society of India (NSI) was held between 21st and 22nd November, 2013, at the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad. The conference was inaugurated by Dr. Anura V Kurpad, President, NSI .  The dignitaries included  Dr. Anura V Kurpad, President, NSI,  Dr. V. M. Katoch, Director General, ICMR,  Prof Barrie M Margetts, President, World Public Health Nutrition and Dr. B. Sesikeran, Former Director, NIN.
There were 15 presentations from the Division of Nutrition, St. John’s Research Institute at the NSI Conference - 3 Oral presentations and 12 Poster presentations.
Oral presentations were by -

  1. Ms. Lisha Shastri
  2. Ms. Sarita Devi
  3. Ms. Agnita Narendra

Poster presentations were by -

  1. Dr. Rebecca Kuriyan
  2. Ms. Prathiba Dwarkanath
  3. Ms. Priyanka Bannikoppa
  4. Mr. Kishore Bhat
  5. Ms. Pauline Anand
  6. Ms. Pooja Mishra
  7. Ms. Ramya Rajendran
  8. Ms. Deepa P Lokesh
  9. Ms. Farheen Dhinda
  10. Ms. Mamatha Philip
  11. Ms. Jayachitra K G
  12. Ms. Nidhi Jaikrishna

Of the presentations, “Four” won prizes:

  1. Dr. Rebecca Kuriyan for the presentation “Innovations in Nutrition Education and Global Health: The Bangalore Boston Nutrition Collaborative”.
  2. Ms. Lisha Shastri for the presentation “ Effects of high oral Iron supplementation on birth weight in South Indian pregnant women with a normal haemoglobin in trimester 1”.
  3. Ms. Pooja Mishra for the presentation “Simple Anthropometric Measures as Indicators for Risk of High Blood Pressure”.
  4. Ms. Priyanka Bannikoppa for the presentation "Understanding HDL functionality in Indians".


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Grand Challenges Canada Award

Oct 23,2013

Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Government of Canada, extended a total of $10.1 million to 14 bold, creative projects aimed at improving the early brain development of kids in low-resource countries.
All 14 projects will be implemented in developing countries: five in Africa, six in Asia and three in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In India, St. John's Research Institute, Unit of CBCI Society for Medical Education, Bangalore, has been awarded a Seed grant of CDN $270,000 for the project Iron-fortified biscuits to reduce maternal and child anemia.
Anemia -- a low level of red blood cells causing a body's reduced capacity to carry oxygen -- results from micronutrient deficiencies, most often iron.
India has one of the highest rates of anemia globally: over 79% of children aged 6 to 8 months and 58% of the 26 million pregnant women each year. Some 17 million of these women have access to iron pills yet 11 million do not take them for the recommend time (adherence rate: 35%). Why? The pill is big and tastes metallic.
Yet iron deficiency anemia dramatically affects the health of a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, increasing risks of death and sickness during childbirth, including hemorrhage and low-birth weight. Long-term, iron deficiency anemia delays psychomotor development and impairs cognitive development in infants, preschool and school-aged children around the world.
Moreover, researchers say, the effects of anemia are, "not likely to be corrected by subsequent iron therapy... anemic children will have impaired performance in tests of language skills, motor skills, and coordination, reportedly equivalent to a 5 to 10 point deficit in IQ."
Part of the answer may be an iron-fortified biscuit for use by pregnant women, indistinguishable in taste from popular Indian biscuits.
Coupled with marketing, project leaders say their new biscuit is more likely to be used by previously non-adherent pregnant women, and increase iron stores in newborns, "which translates to more sustainable and protected early brain development."
"After extensive consumer research, the nutrition team led by Dr A.V. Kurpad and the project collaborators, Violet Health Inc have developed several prototypes specifically designed with the tastes and preferences of pregnant women in India," says project leader Dr. Pratibha Dwarkanath of St John's Research Institute, unit of CBCI Society for Medical Education.
"We estimate our solution to be more cost-effective than the iron pill, while reaching more anemic women and their children"
"After proof of concept, we anticipate a scaled trial in Karnataka within three years and reducing anemia in women and infants."
Project collaborators include Violet Health, Inc., NY, and the Indian Institute of Management, India Bangalore.
For more details on the award and projects, please click on the link given below:


Obama - Singh Award

Jun 26,2013

We are happy to inform you that The Division of Nutrition, St. John's Research Institute (SJRI), has been selected for the prestigious Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative award.  The award is a part of the ongoing educational partnership between India and the United States.
The Division of Nutrition will partner with Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) for the Harvard India Nutrition Initiative. This initiative will aim to substantially contribute to the establishment of sustainable public health research and education capacity in India through mutually beneficial exchanges of faculty and students between Bangalore and Boston, the expansion of an existing and very successful short course in nutrition research methods (the Bangalore-Boston Nutrition Collaborative) co-taught by SJRI, HSPH and Tufts faculty, the development of new nutrition epidemiology courses by SJRI and HSPH faculty and the expansion of access to a website for distance learning via the newly launched edX initiative. The three-year Initiative will be led at SJRI by Dr. Rebecca Kuriyan Raj and Dr. Anura Kurpad.

India-US partnership tackles MOOCs, community colleges

Jun 26,2013

India and the United States have announced eight new partnerships in fields including health, technology, energy and sustainable development, and training of human resources – amounting to around US$2 million – as part of the second round of the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative.

The announcement was made at the India-US Education Dialogue in New Delhi last week, chaired jointly by Human Resource Development Minister MM Pallam Raju and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Each project will receive an award of approximately US$250,000, which can be used over a three-year period, with the objectives of cultivating educational reform including online education, fostering economic growth, generating shared knowledge to address global challenges, and developing junior faculty at Indian and American institutions of higher learning.

The partnerships include a Harvard-India Nutrition Initiative between the Harvard School of Public Health and the St John’s Research Institute in Bangalore; and agreements between Aligarh Muslim University and Ohio State University, and between Assam Agricultural University and Washington State University.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama announced the Obama-Singh Initiative in November 2009. Each government pledged US$5 million for the endeavour, for a total of US$10 million.


Four memoranda of understanding were also signed, including one between the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and edX – a massive open online course (MOOC) platform founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University to offer free online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines. 

Thousands of Indians are flocking to MOOC platforms offering free online courses from the world’s top universities including Stanford, MIT, Harvard and Yale.

On EdX, Indians form the second-largest group. On Coursera, 8.8% of those enrolled are Indians compared to 27.7% from the US. 

It is not just the lure of completing a course taught by a reputed international university that is pulling thousands of Indian students to MOOCs. Students see it as an opportunity to study with world-renowned professors, add to existing qualifications and increase job prospects. 

With the transformation that MOOCs were bringing in the educational sphere, the Indian government planned on focusing closely on them, said Raju.

Community colleges

A second memorandum of understanding was signed between the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) to set up community colleges in India.

India has announced it will set up 200 community colleges over the next few years.

“We will share the best practices and hand-hold Indian institutes in establishing community colleges across India. These will be sector-specific, needs-based courses catering to the markets of specific regions,” said Alice Blayne-Allard, associate vice-president of the AACC.

Construction, hospitality, hotel management, healthcare and automobiles are key areas where the AACC will help Indian efforts, she said. According to Raju, the ministry was working with the AACC to develop a framework for community colleges in the country.

The Institute of International Education also released a white paper titled The US Community College Model: Potential for applications in India.

According to the government’s concept note, the community colleges will provide three-year undergraduate programmes with flexible course structures. The colleges can also provide short-term management courses similar to business schools to produce a job-ready workforce and entrepreneurs.

Such colleges will have boards with representation from industry to ensure desired standards – a model followed by Indian institutes of technology and Indian institutes of management.

“We’re going to look at the importance of community colleges to meeting the demand for higher education on the horizon. Five hundred million students in India in the next nine years may need opportunities for community college education,” said Kerry while addressing the meeting.

“Yet India, obviously, today has a huge shortage of classrooms, teachers and vocational programmes.” 

The US stressed jointly working towards increasing the skills of students to face future challenges, and said this could be done through exchange programmes and partnerships between India and the US. 

Under the Fulbright-Nehru programme, more than 18,000 scholars have participated in exchanges between India and America. More than 100,000 Indian students are enrolled in US higher education institutions.

The US also announced the launch of a new “Passport to India” initiative, to bring American students to India for a hands-on experience in the private sector.

With India’s foreign higher education providers bill still pending in parliament, most of the collaborations that have been announced are in areas outside the scope of the bill.

Ashok Thakur, secretary of higher education in the Ministry of Human Resources, said at the meeting: “Unfortunately, the foreign education providers bill is still with parliament, which is refusing to oblige us. But we have been working outside it, thinking laterally.”

He said that last year the idea of a twinning arrangement had been suggested. There had been some glitches, but restrictions had been removed. What was now needed was greater awareness about opportunities, and workshops between the US and India.

Raju told the Indian media last week the bill would be tabled in the upcoming session of parliament.

Center of Innovation by Waters

Jan 22,2013

In early 20th century writings, Indian novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay sought to expose the social inequities of rural Bengali society.  So it's perhaps fitting that Prof. Amit Mandal is a big Chattopadhyay fan, because Prof. Mandal has devoted much of his professional life to researching disorders and diseases that disproportionately affect disadvantaged populations.

Today, as Professor of Molecular Medicine and Clinical Proteomics at St. John's Research Institute in Bangalore, India, Amit Mandal is one of the world's foremost scientists using mass spectrometry to pursue proteomics research on everything from hemoglobinopathies, iron deficient anemia and mental disorders, to prostate cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Mandal's scientific interests began at a young age.  “In my childhood, in school  and at college, I was deeply involved in the Science Club,” he said.  “We used to participate in different scientific programs and show common people, for example, how to detect adulteration in food using chemicals found in the home.”

He went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry at the University of Calcutta.  Mandal became drawn to a career in science because, as he put it, “I get frustrated doing the same thing every day.  Scientific research is the only field where every day you do something new.”

That led to a Master's degree in pure chemistry, followed by a Ph.D in biophysics from the Bose Institute in Calcutta.

“I was inspired in science, basically, by my teachers at the master’s level at university and definitely during my research period in PhD, postdoc,” said Mandal.  “I've been fortunate to have good mentors at all levels, in particular, Dr. Padmanabhan Balaram, the director of the Indian Institute of Science, during my second postdoc.  He taught me how to speak truth in science – how to criticize my data, to criticize my analysis.  Because if I don’t criticize myself, then I cannot convince others of my scientific explanation.”

While at the Bose Institute, Mandal worked on protein-nucleic acid interaction and protein folding using spectroscopic techniques, such as fluorescence, circular dichroism, and nuclear magnetic resonance.  When he joined Balaram's laboratory, he hoped to learn more about the use of nuclear magnetic resonance to study biological proteins, but that quickly changed.

“On my first day Dr. Balaram asked me, 'What do you know about mass spec?'  So I said, 'I don’t know anything.'  I hadn’t seen a mass spectra of any molecule so far.  So then he told, 'Then go and learn mass spec',” he recalled, laughing.  “That was my entry into mass spec.”

Mandal described his first use of mass spectrometry in 2005 as “a fascinating experience for me.”  His mass spectrometry experience grew as he started working on clinical proteomics, mostly with hemoglobin.  In 2007, he joined St. John's, a research facility under St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, India, where he began building the structural proteomics laboratory laboratory.

In 2008, Mandal received funding from India's Department of Science and Technology to launch a proteomics project.  His relationship with Waters began at that time when he first began using a Waters SYNAPT HDMS Mass Spectrometer equipped with an electrospray ionization source and  a MALDI source. The instrumentation is giving Mandal and his research colleagues new insights into the structural changes associated with post-translational modifications of hemoglobin and its variants.

Much of Prof. Mandal's work at St. John's has been focused on understanding the structural biology of hemoglobin as it relates to disorders, such as hemoglobinopathy and iron-deficient anemia.

“We have published two papers that talk about structural perturbation and structure function correlation in hemoglobin variants using isotope exchange based mass spectrometry,” he explained.  “I’m also conducting a proteomics project where we are trying to find out any biological signature molecule in patients who attempted suicide and were rescued and brought into St. John’s Medical College emergency department.”

When you add in the work that Mandal and his staff of nine are doing on prostate cancer and multiple sclerosis, it's a very busy laboratory.  Away from work, Prof. Mandal enjoys music, sports, politics, and reading.

“I read basically anything,” he said.  “I love to read anything that covers politics, that covers literature.  Chattopadhyay is my favorite writer, because he addresses social issues around family and religion.”

As the first member of his family to become a scientist and a Ph.D, Amit Mandal is keenly aware of how his work may uncover the mechanisms that underlie blood disorders that afflict millions of people around the world.  His favorite author would likely approve.

Looking ahead, Mandal's driving force remains the same.  “It’s the joy of solving scientific problems,” he said with a smile.  “That is what is most satisfying to me.”,-St.-John's-Research-Institute,-Bangalore,-India/nav.htm?cid=134722408&locale=en_IN