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India has a long way to go in brain research and is home to only few scientists of global standards: Prof Bhalla

Nandita Vijay, Bengaluru
Wednesday, December 27, 2017, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

India has a long way to go in brain research. The country is home to only a few scientists in this field, compared to the international efforts, said Prof. Upinder S Bhalla, winner of Infosys Prize 2017 in Life Sciences and Professor- Dean, National Center of Biological Sciences, Bengaluru.

It is particularly important to build a critical mass of people fluent with the newer techniques that transform neuroscience. Young scientists should be supported and sustained in a collaborative and open environment, he added.
Prof. Bhalla won the Infosys Prize 2017 for his pioneering contributions on the brain’s computational machinery. His investigations revealed essential neuronal computations that underlie the ability to acquire, integrate and store complex sensory information, which is utilized for decision and action.
“I do basic research and it is the foundation for understanding complex systems of brain function. When the brain function does not work well, such as in mental disease, there is need to understand what is wrong, and how to fix it. In one research, it is to learn how genes may give rise to the molecular logic that underlies memory. When there is a mutation in one of the genes, the understanding of the molecular logic is crucial to understanding the dysfunction. Similarly, with molecular logic one can make predictions about which drugs may intervene, and the possible molecules to target”, Prof. Bhalla told Pharmabiz.

The key factors that led to winning the Infosys Prize 2017 in Life Sciences are the NCBS research focus, support of brilliant students, far-sighted assistance from funding agencies and willing to consider basic research as an investment. The Wellcome Trust’s Senior Research Fellow scheme provided a kick-start for Prof. Bhalla’s career launch.

Brain science is the future. It is about what we do and all that makes us human. Besides on what goes wrong when there are genetic, acquired, or aging disorders. It is a fascinating time for brain research in India. Several groups are emerging, specially young scientists, who use new techniques and add new perspectives to a more traditional, medico-pharmacological strength. There are also huge possibilities for interactions with the world of machine intelligence. Internationally it is an opening of possibilities, with new techniques to probe brain function, noted Prof. Bhalla.

The three emerging trends in brain research are techniques, conceptual multi-scale system for brain function, and a parallel framework for thinking about neural computation from the machine learning revolution.

Young scientists are receptive and keen undertake research brain. It is imperative to open avenues for them to bridge disciplines in biology, chemical signalling, physics of cell function and instrumentation, computational strengths.

Brain is complicated. The challenges that emerge in brain computational research are that there are roughly 85 billion brain cells in one’s head, making around 200 trillion connections. Even within each cell there are thousands of genes, proteins, doing computations in tiny local domains. There is considerable detail to understand and lot of potential for computation. However, there is need for better experimental methods, better data, better computers, better software, for a close alliance of theory and computation, said Prof. Bhalla.


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