With a vision for betterment of humanity and recognizing that in addition to the government, Private Foundations and Trusts should also support research and technology through grants, SreePVF has constituted Sree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Research Grant in 2019, arguably the first of its kind in India. The award in Biomedical Sciences constitutes one three-year research grant (of up to Rs. 3 crores) each year, for individuals and groups engaged in “bench to bedside” translational research. The grant programme expanded to agricultural sciences in 2021, with the constitution of a special call specifically for agricultural sciences to support novel and sustainable solutions that benefit small and marginal farmers through a 50 lakh grant over two-years.
A Word from D Balasubramanian, Distinguished Scientist (& Director of Research Emeritus), L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), Hyderabad
Where does an individual researcher in India turn to for a grant-in-aid to conduct research? It is invariably to the central government agencies (departments in the ministries of Sci & Tech, Health, Agriculture, Atomic energy, Defence, Space, and Human Resources Development). Some other ministries (e.g., coal, chemicals & fertilizers, women and child development, new and renewable energy, mines…) might offer some grants, though I am not sure how much and whether for long-term basic research. But do we have to turn to Delhi alone for research funding? What about the states and union territories? Do any of the 29 state and 7 union territories governments offer research grants to individual (or a team of) scientists? NO.
It is with this background that some of us have been interacting with the relevant ministers in one or two states of India (West Bengal and Telangana), requesting them to set apart a small sum of money yearly, towards research grants in all areas of science (hard and soft), and chosen areas of humanities and social sciences. Hope they will do so. Wish us success.
But what about private foundations? Barring a couple, the answer is again NO. However, some of our industrialists have set up centres of excellence in science and technology, innovation, management and such in universities in the US and UK. Why not here in India? Contrast this with a similar scientist in Europe, USA, Canada, Japan or Korea. Private Foundations there offer competitive research grants. Is this not time for Indian Industrialists to set up research foundations similar to the Wellcome Trust, MacArthur, Rockefeller, Ford, Howard Hughes, Kavli, Sloan, Keck — and others? India made friends with science since the day it became free (when it was financially a ‘basket case’), and today we are among the top five economic powers in the globe. This became possible due to our friendship with science and technology. Seventy years later, it is time for not just the governments, but private individuals and Foundations in India too, to make friends with science and start offering research grants.
It is against this backdrop that the SreePV Foundation of Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, has initiated a small initiative in supporting research in biological sciences.
Sree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Research Grant in Biomedical Sciences was launched in 2019 and has completed two successful rounds of competition. The first call in 2019 was open to researchers and groups working in the broad area of Biological Sciences for projects that can impact human health and well-being. Since 2020, SreePVF has shifted the focus to “bench to bedside” translational research.
A stringent selection process has been put in place to identify the awardees:
- Initial scrutiny for eligibility, remit and other grant specifications.
- Screening by the Selection Committee for external review based on the following criteria:
- Translational value of the proposed research, how soon can the translation benefit humans
- Novelty of the proposed work; does it enrich the field?
- Feasibility of the proposal based on the expertise of the PI and the collaborators
- Vigor and rigor of the proposed experiments
- Competitiveness with-in the cohort
- Value of the proposed research outcomes for betterment of human health
- Peer-review of selected applications by both national and international experts in the field.
- Interviews of short-listed candidates for final award
A Committee of eminent scientists have been constituted to help the Foundation in reviewing the applications.
Chair: Professor D Balasubramanian, L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad
Members of the Committee:
Professor Dipankar Chatterji, Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore
Professor L S Shashidhara, Ashoka University, Sonepat.
Professor V Chandrasekhar, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Hyderabad
Dr Ghanshyam Swarup, Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology , Hyderabad
Dr Gullapalli Nageswara Rao, L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad
Dr Chadalawada Nageswara Rao, Sree PVF Foundation, Vijayawada
Dr Chadalawada Sudha, Sree PVF Foundation, Vijayawada
Secretary: Dr Ponnari Gottipati, Grants Manager, SreePVF Foundation
Principal Investigator: Dr Vidita Vaidya, Tata Institute of fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai
Collaborator: Dr Ullas Kolthur-Seetharam, TIFR
Title: Modulation of mitochondrial metabolism within limbic brain regions following early life stress
Summary: Early adversity and trauma are major risk factors for an altered health trajectory, with enhanced risk for psychiatric diseases. This remains an important public health concern for India, and a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms that result in life-long changes in neural circuits following early stress has important preclinical and clinical implications. It is our expectation that through this work we will generate novel information on the essential role of specific aspects of mitochondrial metabolism and function in mediating the influence of early adversity in the development of increased risk for adult psychopathology and altered trajectories for age-associated dysfunction. We anticipate the identification of novel targets that are suitable for the development of therapeutic interventions (ranging from biotechnological, nutritional and pharmacological) designed to target mitochondrial pathways as novel ways to treat anxiety and depression, as well as with implications for aging-associated pathology.
Principal Investigator: Dr. Vandana Sharma, Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad (IITH), Hyderabad
Title: 3D Imaging based Vein Intrusion Guide System for Pediatric and Geriatric
Summary: We propose to demonstrate and commercialize the proof of concept of a novel 3D Vein Viewer module that not only images the peripheral vein mapping underneath the human skin but also determines the depth of the vein vessel from the top of the skin with micro-meter accuracy. The standard technique for peripheral IV Intra-Venous access involves a clinician using a tourniquet to engorge veins, followed by palpation to identify a suitable vein and finally insertion of the catheter needle. This often results in many cases of false trials and multiple needle penetrations into the body. Near Infrared Radiation NIR penetrates deeper into tissues a few centimeters and provides 2D images of the subcutaneous vascular network. The maximal likelihood estimate of the depth of is obtained through our recently patented technique of integration of Mie-Scattering with imaging. To account for physiological variations such as skin tone in the population, we also introduce an in-vivo optical coherence tomography (OCT) based mapping of the skin. A single compact, mobile device combining such state-of-the-art optical technologies forms our proposed vein locator which would aid medical staff in reducing the bruising and damaging among patients especially among infants and the aged during IV therapy.
An inter-disciplinary multi-institutional project wins the SreePVF grant in Biomedical sciences this year for their project “Biomimetic hydrogel for the treatment of blinding corneal diseases”. The team comprises basic science researchers to applied biomaterial experts to clinician scientists drawn from IIT, LVPEI and CCMB, all from Hyderabad. As part of this Rs 3 cr grant, they propose to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a novel and proprietary biomimetic hydrogel (patent pending) along with unique mesenchymal stem cells derived from the human eye for the treatment of corneal wounds.
The Committee that evaluated the project said “The beauty of this project is, even while adopting cutting-edge technology, it promises a simpler alternative to corneal transplantation. The use of biological material derived from discarded human cornea as injectable hydrogel is a novel, innovative, cost-effective and easily implementable solution to a problem that affects millions world-wide. This project provides hope to not only all patients with corneal blindness, it also specifically targets a large proportion of patients who otherwise carry poor prognosis for corneal transplantation. The team has already shown that the technology works in animal models and the grant provides them with an opportunity to carry out the much needed bed-side translation.”
Principal Investigators: Dr Falguni Pati, Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad
Dr Sayan Basu, L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad
Dr Vivek Singh, L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad
Dr B Kiran Kumar, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad
Title: Biomimetic hydrogel for the treatment of blinding corneal diseases
Summary: Loss of corneal clarity or transparency is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment affecting millions worldwide. Corneal opacification is not medically reversible and corneal transplantation is the current standard of care for those with severe disease and vision loss. However, corneal transplantation has its limitations with respect to long-term graft survival, prolonged use of topical or oral immunosuppressive medications and life-long clinical follow-up. There is also, unfortunately, a huge gap between the demand and supply of donor corneal tissue worldwide, which is further complicated by the lack of adequate eye-banking networks, especially in the developing world. With advancements in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, many possible alternative approaches to corneal transplantation have emerged in the recent past. These include biomimetic hydrogels, stem cells and gene/molecular therapy. Of these, biomimetic hydrogels have shown the greatest promise.
We have developed a unique biomimetic corneal hydrogel (from discarded human corneas that do not meet optical standards for clinical transplantation) which can be used to treat corneal scarring and keratoconus, major causes of corneal blindness in developing countries like India. This study proposes the clinical grade manufacturing and pre-clinical validation for regulatory approval, and phase 0/1 clinical trials to establish the safety and efficacy of this novel and proprietary material embedded with stem cells derived from the human eye.
Sree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Research Grant, 2021 for Agriculture was constituted by SreePVF in 2021, to support last mile funding of innovative research proposals for the benefit of farming community of India, especially for small and marginal farmers. The grant is up to Rs 50 lakh with a maximum duration of two years.
The major criteria for evaluation of the project proposals is scientific novelty and innovation, readiness to deploy solutions for small and marginal farming community at the end of project duration, sustainable solution(s) featuring innovation, relevance to farming community, cost effectiveness and easy accessibility.
All submitted project proposals are screened for shortlisting in a two-step process.
- Each proposal is evaluated by at least two Committee Members for in-depth evaluation
- The major criteria for primary screening are:
- Scientific novelty
- Utility to farmers including cost of deployment
- Readiness level of technology for deployment upon project completion
- Reasonability of time line
- Expertise of applicant for fulfilling project objectives as well as reasonability of budget
- Green technology
- Interview of Short-listed proposals for final award
Five eminent scientists from the field of Agriculture in India constitute the review Committee
Chair: Dr Ramesh V. Sonti, Professor & Chair, Biology and Dean Faculty, IISER, Tirupati; Former Scientist and J. C. Bose fellow at CSIR-CCMB, Hyderabad; former Director, NIPGR, New Delhi
Members: Dr L. Shashidhara, Distinguished Professor, Ashoka University, Sonpet; Professor, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune
Dr Alok Kalra, Former Chief Scientist and Acting Director (now Consultant), Central Institute of Medicinal & Aromatic Plants, P.O. (CIMAP), Lucknow
Dr Navin Sharma, Director, International Agriculture Consulting Group; Former Head, Resources and Planning at Bangalore Life Science Cluster; Former Director, World Agroforestry Centre (Nairobi); Formerly at Unilever and ITC
Dr M. Sujatha, Director (A), ICAR-Indian Institute of Oilseeds Research, Hyderabad
Staff: Coordinator and Communication – Dr Amit Das, Startup Cofounder, former Scientist at DuPont Knowledge Center, Hyderabad
Principal Investigator: Dr Jagadis Gupta Kapuganti, National Institute of Plant
Genome Research (NIPGR), New Delhi
Title: Novel and cost-effective technology to prevent post-harvest losses of fruits
Summary: Fruits are crucial in daily diet but are most perishable and vulnerable to rapid decomposition and spoilage. It was estimated that approximately 20-25% of harvested fruits spoil before consumption, farmers are losing lot of their income, hence technologies are required for prevention of spoilage. Currently available technologies such as refrigeration technologies are not cost effective and lack of proper infrastructure hence there is need for cheaper technologies. Using innovative method of stimulating nitric oxide pathway from leaves such as mango leaves, banana leaves, in this proposal we would like to develop and deliver special devices for low- and marginal-income fruit farmers to prevent the postharvest losses such as mangoes, banana.