Key Research Areas – SIHS

1. Translation and re-validation of knowledge from Indian Medical Systems

The SIHS focuses on research into the principles and practices of the Indian Medical Systems such as Ayurveda and engages in laboratory and field based research towards validation and translation of the same. Research in SIHS is in areas of significant public health concern including Malaria, Anemia, drinking water, diabetes, herbal standardization, wellness and nootropics. SIHS aims to contribute to sustainable and affordable healthcare solutions in order to contribute to Universal Health Coverage.

2. Ayurveda Nootropics

Medhya Rasayanas or Ayurveda nootropics are described in Ayurveda to specifically improve memory and intellect by Prabhava (specific action). SIHS has established the Caenorhabditis elegans (a free living nematode worm) model to study the mode of action of these nootropic Rasayanas. Herbs like Brahmi, Bala and Shankupushpi are being tested for their action on cognition and memory. Further these drugs are also being studied for their potential use in the management of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Alzheimer’s diseases (AD).

3. Herbal Malaria Preventive Remedies

Malaria research is focused on the development of a scientifically validated herbal malaria prophylactic drug. The research team is engaged in ethnobotanical, pre-clinical and clinical studies to evaluate the safety and efficacy of traditional herbal remedies that use ecosystem based medicinal plants and which are easily accessible to rural communities of malaria-endemic areas.

4. Integrative management of iron deficiency anaemia

More than 50% of the global population, particularly women and children are anemic. Ayurveda considers iron deficiency anemia as a physiological disorder with deranged metabolism, rather than a nutritional deficiency alone. The interventions suggested include the use of common herbs and plants like ginger, pomegranate and amla. We have demonstrated how pomegranate not just increases iron bioavailability but also enhances absorption to functional biological forms like the heme. It also reverses mitochondrial ageing. A poly herbal formulation has also been developed that is useful in the management of iron deficiency anemia, especially in children and adolescents.

5. Mainstreaming Local Heath Traditions

FRLHT-TDU has been involved in Documentation and Rapid Assessment of Local Health Traditions (DALHT) with the help of traditional healers across the country. Healers serve as the first response healthcare providers for the primary health care needs of many communities. Through this participatory research methodology, key community priority health needs and appropriate traditional health practices that are effective and relevant for fulfilling the local community health needs have been identified. FRLHT-TDU has been involved in an Accreditation and Certification of Prior Learning program (ACPL) of Traditional Community Health Practitioners (TCHPs), against a set of Minimum Standards of Competency in their respective streams of practice, based on personnel certification guidelines, along with Indira Gandhi National Open University and the Quality Council of India.This program has been now launched as a Voluntary National Scheme, along with QCI, for the Certification of TCHPs .

6. ‘Omics’ studies for conservation and clinical research

Diverse plant species worldwide produce important medicinal compounds used extensively in curing major human diseases. Often, availability is limited, due to low levels in planta and/or their availability in restricted biodiversity hotspots. Because of their complex skeletal structures, commercial synthesis is limited and metabolic pathway engineering is currently not feasible because of lack of information on biosynthetic machinery involved. A new approach is urgently needed to overcome these long-standing biotechnological bottlenecks and ultimately achieve the objective of sustainable production of such key medicinals. Research at TDU, brings cutting edge technologies and approaches to determine cellular localization of key medicinal pathway metabolites by integrating genomics, proteomics and metabolomics tools, imaging and mapping for identification of the pathways in order to identify new means for their production, including for the use of synthetic biology approaches.

7. Water quality management with focus on anti-microbial systems

Drinking water is a natural resource for the quintessential existence of life on earth. However, clean water has become a scarce entity to almost a billion people around the world and >63 million people in just India.
Storing drinking water overnight in copper pots is a well known traditional practice in India and research at FRLHT-TDU has demonstrated that by following this practice deadly water borne diarrheagenic fecal pathogens including Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella Typhi and rotavirus get killed. Since copper pots are expensive, a cost-effective, copper based drinking water purification device has been developed that kills the pathogens thereby reducing the diarrheal incidence. Currently the product is being manufactured and distributed through a community based social enterprise model in three rural sites in Karnataka.

8. Chemical profiling and biochemical studies of traditional drugs

Chemical profiling of medicinal plants is important for standardization and quality control. A detailed understanding of the effects of traditional drugs on biochemical pathways also helps in developing new therapeutic strategies to treat various diseases. At SIHS, using chromatographic techniques such as HPTLC, HPLC and LCMS, we profile the chemical composition of plants and formulations., We also undertake identification and quantification of chemical compounds and isolation and structural characterization of bioactive compounds.

9. Testing and quality control of herbal drugs

Standards scientific tools such as pharmacognosy, chromatographic and other techniques are used in QC/QA of allopathic medicines. In traditional medicines, more often the quality of herbs and formulation is monitored using the five senses and the mind. Identity, collection time, processing and storage practices determine the quality of herbs and the knowledge regarding this is known to traditional practitioners. These have been named by us as Traditional Quality Standards (TQS) and Reverse Pharmacognosy, ie., understanding the herb quality through traditional wisdom.

E.g., we have demonstrated that turmeric collected at night has 1.5 times better activity than that during day time.

Traditional methods of purification of the deadly poisonous plant like Dhatura (Datura metel) renders them safe. What are the phytochemical changes that happen in the plant?

In future, transcriptomics and metabolomics tools will be used to get a comprehensive understanding of the scientific basis of TQS.

10. “Nadi Vigyana” and ancient Indian medical system manuscriptology

Nadi pariksha refers to pulse-based diagnosis method which is followed in traditional medical systems of India. It is a skill based practice of feeling the pulse of an individual and linking it to the physiology of human body. The “pulse waveform” is obtained on the wrist of the individual with the index, middle and the ring fingers respectively. Each of the pulse wave relate to the tridosha (vata, pita and kapha). These three constituents regulate the body functions and the imbalance forms the basis of diseases.

Nadi pariksha offers a simple non-invasive diagnostics tool. Though this is in practice for past 5000 years, not much of scientific research has been undertaken. SIHS is involved in systemic theoretical understanding of nadi pariksha which can be used to build S&T based tools for integrative human disease diagnosis.

11. Reduction of antibiotic use in dairy farming

Smallholder dairy systems in India have evolved rapidly over the past decades, especially through the dairy farming policy operation flood started in 1973. In most dairy development programs modern technologies and crossbreeding with high-yielding breeds are introduced in dairy together with an extensive milk-marketing system, which has led to high yield crossbred animal to prone for infectious and stress induced diseases. As the incidence of diseases are high in these animal indiscriminate use of antibiotics have become routine practices in dairy farming either by the veterinarians or by farmers.

Due to indiscriminate usage of antibiotics has led to Antimicrobial resistance in animals and the residues of these antibiotics in animal products are giving way for AMR in humans.

Antibiotic resistance arising from the large-scale use of antibiotics in animals is in high alarm for WHO, FAO and OIE. Presently the regulatory mechanisms by most countries aimed to reduce the level of antibiotics in food products. India expected to learn from other parts of the world how they are achieved the present status and what need to be done. This means India’s priority should be to put systems in place to reduce the use of antibiotics in dairy farming.

The goal of judicious use of antibiotic has to be achieved through creating awareness among the Veterinary doctors, dairy cooperatives and farmers, and to use effective alternative to antibiotics. The alternatives are derived from Ethnoveterinary Sciences and living Tradition of India.

12. Popularizing ethno-veterinary practices in order to improve milk quality in small dairy farms

Dairy farming is of crucial importance in India: India is the world’s largest milk producer, accounting for 13-15% of the world’s total milk production. India is also a major consumer of dairy products, consuming almost 100% of its own milk production.

Smallholder dairy systems in India have evolved rapidly over the past decades, especially through the dairy farming policy Operation Flood started in 1973. In most dairy development programs modern technologies and crossbreeding with high-yielding breeds are introduced in dairy together with an extensive milk-marketing system. Besides the obvious advantages, there are also risks related to this strategy, such as the threats to human health due to indiscriminate use of antibiotics and other chemicals in dairy animals. Other threats include high disease incidence in cross-breed animals, as well as the loss of local breeds, biodiversity and soil fertility. High treatment costs as well as inaccessibility of public veterinary health care are other serious issues of present day veterinary care.

As a result of this trend there is a need for integrated animal management practices by smallholder dairy farmers. The unique Indian Ethno-veterinary heritage is present (even though eroding) in the rural areas. The experiences gained in this field by institutions such as TDU and TANUVAS, can positively influence some of the field veterinarians in adopting ethno-veterinary practices as the first line of treatment for low cost management of animal health conditions.

TDU documented ethno-veterinary practices in 22 locations in 10 states of India. In total 450 formulations were documented out of which 353 were found to be safe and efficacious when assessed with our rapid assessment methodology. Out of 353 formulations 15 remedies have gone through clinical observation studies, namely Mastitis, Bloat, Indigestion, FMD, Anorexia, Fever, Ephemeral fever, Wound, Maggot wound, calf scour, Diarrhoea, Dermatitis, Enteritis, impaction of rumen, Udder pox, Repeat breeding.

We have trained 411 veterinarians (127 from KMF + 117 Through NDDB+ 157 through TVET), Farmers around 3,000 and LRP/VRP 200 in EVP.

13. Developing guidelines for “whole and wellness systems” for clinical research in Ayurveda

Wellness or Svasthya is viewed in Ayurveda as a state of homeostasis when the three doshas are in equilibrium and vaya or ageing is a natural process. There are several internal and external factors which determine svasthya. Ayurveda describes ways to achieve wellness and delay ageing under a separate branch called Rasayana.

TDU is a National Facility for R&D in Rasayana and has established facilities to undertake trans-disciplinary research to bridge Rasayana concepts (sastra) and science. Relevant cell free, cell based and small organisms model have been established to study the mode of action of selected Rasayana plants and to understand the molecular mechanisms. These include models to study aspects of agni (digestion), deepana/ pachana (digestion & absorption), srotoshodhana (clearing of blocked channels), vyasthapana (longevity), poshana (nutrition), vrshya (aphrodisiac), medhya (nootropic) etc.

It is planned to explore the theoretical foundations of Svasthya and algorithms in future to provide a better scope for projections and healthcare applications in the area of wellness.

14. Ayurveda for the management of diabetes, obesity and glucose metabolism

Emerging trend of opting for complementary and alternate medicines for the management of life style diseases like diabetes is encouraging but has limited global acceptance due to inadequate information on their mode of action, pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics. The research focuses on understanding the mode of action of Ayurvedic formulations used in diabetes management as well as using formulations as tools to understand the concepts of Ayurveda in the management of diabetes, obesity and glucose metabolism.

15. Ayurveda Fumigation

Ayurveda mentions fumigation as Dhoopana (Dhoopa = fumes; Dhoopana = fumigation) or Dhumapana (Dhuma = fume; Dhumapana = inhalation of fume). Ayurveda recommends fumigation for improving general health and immunity in addition to its specific therapeutic application as a drug delivery method for all types of head and neck diseases as well as for psychological disorders. The research focus on understanding the concepts of Ayurvedic fumigation and exploring its applications in improving air quality, general wellness etc.

16. Abhava Pratinidhi Dravyas

The demand for Ayurvedic and herbal medicine is steadily increasing. Over-exploitation of natural resources caused a rapid loss of bio-diversity and a situation of near extinction of several species. It has led to adulteration of several raw drugs. In this scenario, Traditional Knowledge guided use of substitutes, which is called as ‘Abhava Pratinidhi Dravya’ may help identify genuine substitutes for rare and endangered plant medicines. Ayurvedic literature identified substitutes for more than 160 plants, animal and mineral origin drugs.

Legitimate substitutes can serve as a resource augmentation strategy in conserving an endangered plant species. Existing programs on ‘Abhava Pratinidhi Dravya’ are attempts to develop suitable substitutes for rare plant drugs in high demand using both the logic of Traditional Knowledge and scientific tools.

© 2017 TransDisciplinary University, Bengaluru.