• New Delhi
  • 1 February 2015
  • Features
  • By Rahul Koul

Ayurgenomics raises new hopes for patients

Despite being in existence in India since thousands of years, Ayurveda has not found much acceptability in the modern way of medicines. Here we explore whether the entry of genomic tools could make it a source for predictive and personalized medicines?

ayurgenomics

The word ‘Ayurgeomics’ was hypothesized in a study published in September, 2008.

How often have you seen well qualified genomic researchers reciting centuries old Vedic hymns while explaining their research work? Perhaps never because of it being stereotyped into something mysterious! But here is an example of a research team that has been working quietly for last one decade on a unique initiative to find resemblances between genomics and Ayurveda.

Named the TRISUTRA (Translational Research and Innovative Science Through Ayurveda), it is basically a unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research(CSIR) functional at its Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (IGIB), New Delhi. The research focus of the Unit comprising of a small team, is to develop affordable health care solutions through integration of traditional knowledge of Ayurveda, genomics and modern medicine.

To begin with, the survey questionnaire with eleven queries on the TRISUTRA's site asks few basic questions on the Ayurveda, testing the knowledge and preferences of common Indians on the subject. Apart from the basics, the Unit has been working with the hospitals, tertiary referral centres, and academic institutions to create a network of multi-disciplinary research efforts.

Among these are the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata; Ganit Labs, Bangalore; National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore; Maharishi Dayanand University, Haryana; along with host of Ayurveda and public institutes in India. The network has also aligned globally with the Georgia Technology University, Atlanta. Whether or not the Ayurveda can prove to be an effective scientific tool for treating bodily ailments is highly debatable but what certainly cannot be ignored or underestimated is its continued acceptability in the remote parts of India since ages. The critics may find it quite complex but then complexities lead to discoveries. Isn't it? So why has been the cross talk between Ayurveda, modern medicine and genomic science been avoided so far?

A peep into past 

While it was conceptualized long back in 2002 by Dr Samir Brahmachari, former director general of CSIR and his team, the recognition came as late as in 2008 when a landmark study, the first of its kind in the world, revealed that it is possible to identify groups within normal individuals of the populations, which could be predisposed to certain kind of diseases, and also might respond differently to drugs. This is also when the word ‘Ayurgenomics' was coined by the authors of the study. Based on one of the leads from gene expression differences, a genetic marker associated with high altitude adaptation and a high altitude illness, EGLN1 was identified. The study thus provided a novel molecular framework for integration of two contrasting disciplines.

Recalling the days when nobody was even talking about it, Dr Brahmachari mentioned, "When we imagined this project back in 2001, our knowledge was zero. But we realized that the genomic research is moving towards predictive personalized medicine. Therefore, we thought ahead of times and established a network of scientists to explore the existing traditional knowledge ignored so far. The principle we are using is very similar to the sub-group classification employed 4000 years back in Ayurveda."

 

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