A look at the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Delhi.

The operational efficiency of Defence personnel in different environmental conditions is a matter of concern for any country. Every effort has to be made for ensuring the best physical and mental health of soldiers. Further, there has to be continuous studies and research for evolving new scientific methods to enhance their health.

Physiological, biochemical, nutritional and ergonomic approaches may be necessary for optimising human performance in different environmental conditions. In other words, in the interest of efficiency of the Defence forces, we should aim at excellence in the field of environmental physiology and human factor research. There is a centre of excellence in this field under the Defence Research and Development Organisation — the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS), Lucknow Road, Timarpur, Delhi – 110 054; Website: http://drdo.gov.in/drdo/labs/ DIPAS/English/index.jsp? pg=homebody.jsp.

Though research in military physiology in our country was initiated in 1950 through a small group of scientists and medical physiologists at the Defence Science Laboratory, Delhi, DIPAS was officially established only in 1962. The area of thrust was high-altitude physiology, environmental physiology, ergonomics of man-machine interface, nutrition and biochemistry of men in severe stress environments. A full-fledged laboratory was established for ergonomic assessment of workstations and man-machine interface. The institute has made remarkable strides in research in its special area.

The focus was indeed products for straight application in the field where soldiers work, often in tough conditions. Even in the early days of the laboratory, there were studies on sizing of clothing, load carriage and distribution in infantry soldiers, thermal comfort zone identification, nature of heat casualty, salt and water requirement in summer, habitability survey of naval ships, physical training and conditioning schedule.

The style of research is constantly modified to fall in line with emerging technology.

It is interesting to note that extensive research has been carried out on yoga and ‘adaptogen’ as performance-enhancers in extreme environments.

(An adaptogen is a non-toxic substance, usually herbal, that enhances our body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress.)

Significant work has been done in the following areas as well.

Heat induced hypo-hydration on physiological and cognitive functions under desert operations

Analysis of neuro-physiological mechanism of anorexia, high-altitude pulmonary oedema (excessive build-up of fluid), cold injuries, memory impairment and sleep pattern at high altitude for developing preventive and therapeutic measures.

Innovative devices against noise-induced hearing loss by carbogen (a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen) breathing.

Physiological evaluation of cold, heat and NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) protective clothing.

Physiological adaptation to environmental stress.

Modulation of human performance under extreme environments.

Nutritional requirements of the armed forces under different operational environments and during specialised training as at high altitude.

Standards based on body fat and body mass index, as for recruitment of Air Force pilots.

Formulation of ration scales (quantity of food to be served to satisfy nutritional needs) for the armed services.

Designing of the cockpit of the light combat aircraft and driver’s compartment of battle tanks.

Life support systems for paratroopers.

Battery-operated electrically heated gloves and socks.

Self-sustaining comfortable huts utilising non-conventional energy sources for the use of soldiers.

Personal cooling suits for desert operations.

The research findings over the years have been termed force multipliers for successful operations by the armed forces. Such multipliers include electrically heated garments, field shelters using non-conventional sources of energy for heating and power requirement and oxygen enrichment.

Substantial research has been carried out in unravelling the physiological and molecular mechanism behind environment-mediated changes on brain and behaviour. There are mysteries in the functioning of the human brain at high altitudes. DIPAS studied these, focussing on neuro-physiological alterations, responses of autonomic nervous system, EEG, under-eating, sleep profile and effects of sleep deprivation on high-altitude exposure. Psychological and electrophysiological tests were held on human volunteers in high altitudes. Pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions are being explored to improve the cognitive functioning and sleep quality of soldiers deputed at high altitudes.

The translational research in the institute has brought out an important “heat shock proteins”-based candidate vaccine against typhoid. Further, several nutraceuticals have also been evolved. (“Nutraceutical” is a term combining “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical”.

It is a food or food product that provides health and medical benefits, including prevention and treatment of disease). There are studies for identifying methods to improve physical and cognitive performance of soldiers under all conditions of deployment.

The DIPAS research tentacles have stretched themselves to the fields of biotechnology, proteomics, genomics and nanotechnology.

The institution maintains links with sister laboratories under the DRDO as well as with other reputable research centres.

All these indicate the rich opportunities offered by the institution to our young aspirants of science research.