Staff Reporter

Rs. 29-crore project will be launched on Sunday by P. Chidambaram

CHENNAI: Sankara Nethralaya is launching a state-of-the-art research house to explore cutting-edge genetics, nanotechnology and stem cell studies in an ophthalmic context.

The National Institute for Research in Visual Sciences and Ophthalmology (NIRVO) will open up avenues for qualitative international collaboration but at the same time maintain an `India-centric' orientation in seeking solutions relevant to the morbidity profile in the sub-continent, Tarun Sharma, vitreoretinal surgeon and Director of Shri Bhagwan Mahavir Vitreoretinal Services, told a press conference on Friday.

The Rs. 29-crore project, to be formally launched on Sunday by Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, is expected to be completed by September 2007. The seven-storied structure housing over 50,000 sq ft. will serve as an umbrella for the various existing research programmes under Sankara Nethralaya's research arm, the Vision Research Foundation.

"The research focus will strike a balance between common ailments like cataract and complex disorders like the Limbal stem cell deficiency. Sometimes, solutions to common ailments can be a spinoff from research on complex disorders," said Lingam Gopal, VRF president. The acquisitioning of Affymetrix Targeted Genotyping System (GeneChip Microarray) signals the path of future ophthalmic research at NIRVO. The equipment will be installed at the VRF Referral Laboratory on Haddows Road.

Besides putting genetic research on the fast track, the GeneChip machine is considered a giant leap forward in predictive medicine through facilitating the identification of disease-causing genes, said Ram Prasad, ocular genetics expert.

In other words, the machine achieves in a week what used to be a several-months-long process of mapping the over 10 million Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in the human genome.

The VRF Referral Laboratory, which synergises research with clinical applications, has been upgraded to meet any diagnostic demand from a host of divisions ranging from clinical microbiology to clinical biochemistry. The state-of-the-art facilities include rooms for Polymerase Chain Reaction tests, stem cell laboratory, human genotyping and molecular typing laboratories, said H. N. Madhavan, Director (Research).

In addition to acquisitioning advanced facilities for nanotechnology and stem cell research, exisiting facilities would be upgraded across research centres in ocular genetics, biochemistry and pathology. As a hub for ophthalmic research programmes in the country, NIRVO will also be involved in teaching and training of prospective researchers.