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Nanobiotechnology will gain prominence in stem cell research, says Dr Samuel JK Abraham
Rahul Koul

Bangalore, Mar 15, 2010: Nichi-In Center for Regenerative Medicine (NCRM), based in Chennai, India, is an Indo-Japan joint venture institute that carries out research, training and clinical applications-protocol development in regenerative medicine, with emphasis on stem cells, progenitor cells and autologous adult cells with regenerative capability to take them to clinical application.

In an exclusive interview with BioSpectrum, Dr Samuel JK Abraham, Director of NCRM, shares his views on the current stem cell research scenario and the possible future trends of nanobiotechnology applications in India.

What is the advantage India has in nanobiotechnology applications?

India is still in its infancy. Though nanocoated anti-cancer drugs like Doxil have been in clinical application in the US, we have not heard of any such breakthrough from India in drug discovery field.

NCRM has been working closely with 240 different nanomaterials and technologies in specialties such as ophthalmology (corneal regeneration), orthopedics (cartilage injury repair), and hematology (expansion of hematopoietic stem cells). This has been made possible because ours is an Indo-Japan joint venture organization and we have an access to our collaborators' technological strength in terms of both nano products and processing methodologies.

What are the major trends in regenerative medicine using nanobiotechnology applications?

In-vitro cell culture and tissue engineering are the core components of regenerative medicine and to have an ideal platform for clinically usable cells, nanomaterials such as nanocoated surfaces, nanogels and scaffolds are important. NCRM has successfully accomplished the in-vitro expansion of hematopoietic stem cells of human origin and from primates using such scaffolds.

In the near future nanosurface coated human autologous fibroblast culture is likely to revolutionize the facial wrinkle treatment. At the moment conventional method of fibroblast culture is used to support the facial anti-wrinkle treatment in Japan. NCRM is working on further enhancing the fibroblast culture work by using appropriate nanobiotechnology.

Another area of potential application will be in dental stem cells. It has been clinically used in human patients for mandibular reconstruction and root canal treatment. In animal studies, corneal surface damages have been repaired using dental stem cells using temperature sensitive nanocoated surfaces. NCRM is planning to take this to clinical studies. These proven applications using our expertise where in three dimensional culture of corneal limbal stem cells have been accomplished by our team jointly with Sankara Nethralaya.

How is the fund availability for the nanobiotech sector?
Though we have got two projects that are funded by the government bodies through our collaborators; one with Institute of Pathology, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi and other with Sri Ramachandra University, we usually go for such fundings after filing IP rights.

Most of our funds are from private bodies and our organization being conceived and run by clinicians and scientists, our researches are oriented towards taking the bench side developments to the bedside, but not just for mere publication. Our business model is to give life to an idea, prove it through proper channels of translational studies if the concept is new and take it to a clinical application and then transfer the technology to an institute/company for commercial scale-up.

If the technology is already proven, we adopt it, overcome the learning curve and then transfer it to a firm after simplification. One example is our technology transfer of autologous immune enhancement therapy to a Malaysian firm.

We are also collaborating with public institutes such as Institute of Pathology, ICMR; Anna University-KB Chandrashekar Research Center; and Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, a few to mention. But relatively, the PPP initiative in India has to be more aggressive, result oriented and more thrust is needed like in the west.

What opportunities do you see in the usage of nanobiotechnology applications in future ?

In regenerative medicine, biological contamination-free in-vitro cell culture and tissue engineering are going to gain a great momentum with the help of nanomaterials and technology. As mentioned above, the proven cell therapy applications such as corneal stem cell application, cell-based therapies in cosmetology, dental stem cell banking and applications will also show great promise.

Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are the cells that keep us alive by producing the RBCs, WBCs and platelets on a daily basis. These cells undergo damages with aging that are repaired by DNA ligase IV in-vivo. NCRM has been working on some biomimicking nano-environments for the cryopreservation and expansion of the HSCs so that when such environments (which include a micro-gravity and/or zero gravity environment in outer space) can prevent the process of aging, this will lead to the development of a novel anti-aging treatment in the future.

© BioSpectrum Bureau

- Courtesy Bio Spectrum , 15 Mar 2010 issue.
*"Nichi" stands for Japan and "In" stands for India. This institute started on an Indo-Japan collaboration now has spreaded further with global alliances
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