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View from India: Research to improve daily lives

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Soothing stress busters, solutions for mental disorders and cues to cut through traffic jams. The three situations may seem unrelated, but what’s common to them all is the research that has gone into their making. A core team of researchers arrived at the findings that are now being tapped by many more people. Let’s go beyond these examples.

The frontiers of research could probably reach a higher realm with some doses of encouragement. The research fraternity requires funding to work on solutions for the betterment of people. The UN’s 'Sustainable Development Goals' (SDG) are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere.

“To realise this goal, we need to encourage researchers by creating opportunities and a befitting environment for them to work. Besides political support, the financial investment should increase,” said S. Gopalakrishnan, president of the Board of Trustees, Infosys Science Foundation, and co-founder of Infosys Ltd, speaking at the 2022 Infosys Prize Ceremony.

Private-public-philanthropic collaboration could lead to improved funding. Better funds could pave the way for solving issues such as energy transmission to all, solutions for life-threatening diseases and lessening the impact of climate change. Incremental progress in research may translate into clean energy and early detection of cancer. This could be understood as return on investment (RoI). “ISF recognises path-breaking research, which asks questions that may have never been asked before. We support such research so that they can scale up their work and impact the society,” added Gopalakrishnan.

Critical thinking, curiosity and analytical skills could help researchers fine-tune their discoveries. Breakthroughs in research need the backing of world-class infrastructure. A case in point is the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, which has come up with an artificial heart to address cardiac diseases. This is something unique and should help in heart transplants. In all likelihood it could find its way into cardiac procedures within two years. To think of it, it’s not just cardiac care but even equipment could be manufactured in India rather than relying on medical device imports. This may call upon newer pursuits in biomedical research as well fulfil the Make in India vision.

Another example is that of the Sudha Gopalakrishnan Brain Centre launched at IIT Madras in 2022. This state-of-the art centre is to map the human brain at the cellular and connectivity level, with a focus on high-resolution brain imaging. This explains the need for understanding the data emerging from brain research. IIT Madras intends to train undergraduate and post-graduate students in areas like neuroscience, neuro-computing and machine learning techniques on cutting-edge brain data.

Research initiatives are not confined to just the IITs. Several other premier institutions are funding-encouraging research, complete with intellectual property (IP) protection. One such institution is the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) which was in the news recently for its patents. News reports revealed that the IISc scientists and researchers filed 585 patents in 2022. That would mean two patents have been filed every three days on average. IISc’s encouragement towards research-patenting is obvious. This pace has set the tone for incubation and lab-to-market research. Research-oriented goals could point towards commercial use. While science, engineering and technology combos are sought after by researchers, many discoveries happen through a multidisciplinary approach. For instance, music could be therapeutic for patient recovery. If we were to think along these lines, perhaps many more possibilities may unfold.

India is at a promising vantage point when it comes to research. The country has a wealth of data as it is home to almost 20 per cent of the world’s population. This may help it tap into the data coming from this demographic dividend. Other than that, global collaboration may also be the way forward. This opens up diversity in thinking which may be applied for complex issues.

The winners of the Infosys Prize 2022 were announced in November 2022. The prize ceremony was held last week.

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