A look at the functions of the Desert Medicine Research Centre, Jodhpur, and the Regional Medical Research Centre, Belgaum.

The previous two instalments of this column discussed the research opportunities in four of the six regional centres of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Now we shall see what research facilities are available at the remaining two centres.

Desert Medicine Research Centre (DMRC), Jodhpur – 342 005; Website: www.dmrcjodhpur.org

Desert areas have their own unique features. In the matter of diseases and public health, these areas need special attention. Their specific needs have to be met. The characteristic problems have to be scientifically studied and evaluated. For meeting the related research requirements, a centre was started in 1984 in Rajasthan, with three coordinating units in Jodhpur, Bikaner and Jaipur. In 1992, the three units were merged to form the DMRC.

Some of the contributions of the centre are the following.

Generated baseline data on nutritional problems faced by the desert population.

Studied the transmission dynamics of vector-borne diseases (malaria and dengue) in the changing ecology of desert areas.

Studied the health problems related to silicosis, hypertension, renal stones and maternal-child health. (Silicosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling tiny bits of silica. An occupational hazard of workers in jobs where they would breathe in tiny silica bits.)

Eliminated guinea worm disease.

The Centre conducts research studies on dengue, malaria, vector bionomics, insecticide resistance, herbs with potential as insecticides and as anti-infective agents, hypertension and nutritional deficiencies in vulnerable populations. Some of the other realms of research include human physiology, geographical genomics, nutritional diseases, operational research, vector-borne diseases, medicinal and insecticidal plants, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, advanced functional biomaterials, non-communicable diseases, nano-bio interface, health problems associated with a desert environment, famine, floods, opium addiction, dehydration, water-borne diseases, radio isotopic applications, NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) threats and post-disaster management.

It aims to become a centre of excellence in desert health management. The desert ecology has its distinctive characteristics. The desert area measures nearly 8.7 per cent of the total area of India, which makes desert studies important.

The DMRC stands recognised for research leading to the award of PhD. It is a nodal centre for research in desert health areas.

Thrust areas

Studies on dengue virus and risk factors of dengue hemorrhagic fever. Surveillance design for forecasting epidemic situations.

Studies on vector bionomics and transmission dynamics of desert malaria.

Studies on the magnitude and distribution of nutritional deficiencies.

Estimation of burden of communicable and non- communicable diseases and their transition across time and space for policy planning.

Studies on epidemiology of life-style diseases.

Regional Medical Research Centre (RMRC), Nehru Nagar, Belgaum – 590 010; Website: www.icmr.nic.in/pinstitute/ belgaum.htm

This is an institution with a unique research focus on traditional and herbal medicines. Studies pertain to diseases of local importance as well.

The RMRC maintains close collaboration with traditional and herbal medicine practitioners. This helps in creating general awareness of herbal medicines. Such collaboration is essential for gathering, collating, and disseminating information on herbal medicines. Further, the efforts promote scientific temperament in people working in the area.

The RMRC functions as a resource centre for the development of herbal technologies. Innovative research to arrive at products for the treatment of diseases such as metabolic and hepatic disorders is another segment of activities. Health research with stress on ulcer and enteric diseases is also being carried out.

Thrust areas of research

Documentation of local traditional medicinal plants and medical practices.

Scientific validation of herbal medicine, focusing on efficacy, safety and mode of action.

Extraction, purification, characterisation and pharmacological screening of medicinal plants.

Chemo-profiling and genotyping of medicinal plants.

Development of chemical and molecular markers for identification of medicinal plants.

Preservation and propagation of germplasm of important species (Germplasm refers to the hereditary material of germ cells).

Improvement of infrastructure and strengthening human resources in the area of herbal and traditional medicine.

Research on different aspects of diseases of local importance, with emphasis on etiology and epidemiology.

The centre has established a museum for ethno-medicinal plants of the Western Ghats and developed a herbal garden with more than 200 medicinal plants. Another significant contribution is its investigation of outbreak of enteric diseases. It could provide expertise and facilities to local health authorities in handling several such cases.

What is of great interest to prospective research scholars is that the centre holds Ph.D. and post-doctoral research programmes on its thrust areas. The scientists of the centre are recognised guides and co-guides for Ph.D. and MD (Ayurveda) students of universities including KLE University, Belgaum.

The centre provides hands-on training to graduate and undergraduate students from life sciences and medical sciences.