Living with Air Pollution in a Chinese Megacity

By Cerian Foulkes, Communications and Programme Manager, RCUK China.

AQI, PM2.5, 3M N93. For Beijing residents, these are the everyday terms we use to navigate the smog that engulfs our city. Early last week, as Beijing’s pollution reached ‘Beyond Index’ levels not seen since early 2013, daily chatter moved away from Christmas holiday plans to comparing the effectiveness of our air purifiers.

Putting AQI into context, Beijing US Embassy Air Quality and Pollution Measurement website.

Putting AQI into context, Beijing US Embassy Air Quality and Pollution Measurement website.

Understanding Air Quality Index (AQI) tables is a relatively new challenge for both Chinese and foreigners living in this megacity, as is forecasting which weather changes will bring us blue skies again. The 1st December this year was one of the most polluted to date with official figures measuring the AQI as more than 600 PM2.5 (Particulate Matter up to 2.5 micrometers in size) and office rumours had it at over 1000, both figures well into the ‘Hazardous’ range. For 24 hours it felt like we were living in a dystopia rather than the political centre of one of the most powerful countries in the world. Anticipation grew as our working day came to an end and someone announced that the evening would bring north westerly winds to finally chase the choking air away. As forecast, on 2nd December we awoke to a mere 25 AQI, which according to the Beijing US Embassy is ‘Good’, and we knew that for at least a few days we could put our 3M N93 masks aside and breathe easy.

Maggie from RCUK China team stands outside the British Embassy in Beijing, taken at 2pm on 1st and 2nd December.

Maggie from RCUK China team stands outside the British Embassy in Beijing, taken at 2pm on 1st and 2nd December.

Over the same two days, in another major capital some 8,000km away, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with world leaders for the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, ‘to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate’. As one of the largest producers of greenhouse gas, China plays a pivotal role in climate change mitigation. However as President Xi states “Addressing climate change should not deny the legitimate needs of developing countries to reduce poverty and improve living standards” it is clear that further research is required to ensure development is not at the expense of urban environments and population health.

While the average Beijing citizen is focused on adapting our everyday habits to life under a blanket of PM2.5, working in the RCUK China office we are able to celebrate the progress being made to find long-term solutions. Just last week it was announced that five projects are being funded by the UK-China joint programme Atmospheric Pollution and Human Health in a Chinese Megacity (see link for full list of projects). With support from our team, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Natural Sciences Foundation of China (NSFC) have come together to support these four-year bilateral, interdisciplinary projects that will provide insight into the sources, processes and impacts of urban air pollution. Part of the NERC funds and all of the MRC funds for this programme is from the Newton Fund, part of the UK Government’s official development assistance.

Beijing, along with Dehli and others, are often described as some the most polluted cities in the world and these new research partnerships are a major step to providing new knowledge to solve this challenge. In addition to this call in China, NERC and MRC have also recently launched a separate call into Atmospheric Pollution & Human Health in an Indian Megacity to continue understanding this global development problem. As the population continues to rapidly urbanise in China, India and across the rest of the world, efforts made to understand and solve severe air pollution will no doubt benefit millions of lives.

Indian Prime Minister visit to the UK: Highlights strong UK-India research partnership

By Sukanya Kumar-Sinha Deputy Director, RCUK India

The euphoria around Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit to the UK started months before the actual visit, and continues to remain high a week later! We, in the research arena, are particularly ecstatic about how science, research and innovation came through with flying colours.

Prof Jane Elliott and Prof VijayRaghavan signing the letter of intent

Prof Jane Elliott and Prof VijayRaghavan signing the letter of intent

During this visit, RCUK announced that investment in UK-India research from RCUK, the Government of India, and third parties now exceeds £200 million, following a joint £72 million boost to the portfolio during 2015. This boost comes in the form of new initiatives across a range of research activities. For instance, we have UK and Indian researchers working together to develop affordable clean-energy solutions, to generate new knowledge on air pollution and its impacts on health in a rapidly urbanising society, and to develop models for sustainable water resources for food, energy and ecosystems services.

On the other hand, there are also multinational programmes (in partnership with the UK’s Department for International Development) where UK and Indian researchers are working with researchers from low-income countries to help address major challenges in maternal and childhood health, and food-security needs in low-resource settings.

A full list of new RCUK programmes is available on the RCUK website here.

Team RCUK India

Team RCUK India

As Prime Minister Modi pointed out in his address to the UK Parliament, “We are working together in the most advanced areas of science and technology. We are finding solutions to the enduring human problems of food and health security, and seeking answers to emerging challenges like climate change”.  To say that this has been a busy year will be an understatement! And it is only going to get busier, what with the two Prime Ministers announcing 2016 as the UK-India Year of Education, Research and Innovation.

So, what will the year 2016 bring with it? From RCUK’s perspective, we look forward to making our partnership with India deeper, more robust and more interdisciplinary. We hope to work with a range of Indian partners acting as one team to address mutual, even global, challenges by bringing together experts from various disciplines of sciences. One such imminent programme will be the setting up of the India-UK Strategic Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). Led by RCUK in the UK, and DBT in India, the aim of this strategic group will be to lead the way in developing international norms for the control of AMR.

To this effect, on 19th November, RCUK and DBT signed a letter of intent to work together in Climate Change, Agriculture, Antimicrobial Resistance and Vaccine Development.

Another highlight will be the launch of the Atmospheric Research Aircraft (ARA) campaign in India as part of India’s Monsoon Mission to improve prediction of the monsoon from short range to seasonal timescales.

In May 2016, RCUK will co-host with India the next Global Research Councils meet bringing together approximately 60 heads of research councils from around the world, as well as high-ranking observers from global science agencies, university associations and research policy organisations. Furthermore, the UK will also partner with India for the 2016 Technology Summit in Delhi.

So, as we celebrate the success of the historic ‘Modi visit’ as we have fondly referred to it over the past many months of preparation; we, at RCUK India, look forward to taking forward the commitment that our two Prime Ministers have made towards a stronger and more sustainable research partnership.

Grant giving: Global funders to focus on interdisciplinarity

By Professor Rick Rylance, Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Chair of Research Councils UK.

Three arguments are often made in favour of interdisciplinary research. First, complex modern problems such as climate change and resource security are not amenable to single-discipline investigation; they often require many types of expertise across the biological, physical and social disciplines. Second, discoveries are said to be more likely on the boundaries between fields, where the latest techniques, perspectives and insights can reorient or increase knowledge. The influence of big-data science on many disciplines is a good example. Third, these encounters with others benefit single disciplines, extending their horizons.

The arguments against interdisciplinary work are also familiar. Devotees of normalized citation measures often contend that interdisciplinary research is inferior. Some fear that it drains funds, time and energy from ‘core’ disciplines. Research funders often hear complaints that schemes targeted at interdisciplinarity distract researchers. There is a persistent argument that ‘you can’t have inter-disciplines without disciplines’.

One striking aspect of this debate is how poor the consolidated data are on which to base judgements. This is why the Global Research Council (GRC) has selected interdisciplinarity as one of its two annual themes for an in-depth report, debate and statement between now and mid-2016. (The other is the position of women in science and research.) The GRC is a federation of more than 50 national research funders, with representatives from countries including Brazil, China, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Participants include the US National Science Foundation, Research Councils UK (RCUK), Science Europe and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

This blog post is extracted, with permission, from an article on nature.com

 

 

Debating Open Access in India

By Andrew Telford, Senior Programme Manager, RCUK India

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an interesting interactive seminar hosted by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) Library and Information Centre, on open access policy in India. The aim of the seminar was to discuss the challenges, opportunities and benefits of designing and implementing an open access policy in regards to publically-funded science research at a national level.

Presentations underway at Looking Back and Moving Forward: Open Access Movement at the Crossroads

Presentations underway at Looking Back and Moving Forward: Open Access Movement at the Crossroads

Research Councils UK began implementing a new and comprehensive RCUK Policy on Open Access in April 2013, with the introduction of block grants to eligible Universities to cover costs of article processing charges (APCs). This policy was subject to an independent review – released in March 2015, on which I was asked to provide a presentation for the audience of TERI’s seminar outlining the good progress made so far and the remaining challenges.

The seminar, entitled ‘Looking Back and Moving Forward: Open Access Movement at the Crossroads’ began with an opening address from Mr Prabir Sengupta, Director of TERI’s Knowledge Management Division and presentations from Dr PK Bhattacharya and Ms Shailly Kedia on TERI’s open access initiatives. This was followed by an address from Mr Denis Dambois, Head of Research and Innovation, European Union India explaining the EU’s policies for promoting open access to research. A presentation from Dr Sudha Gopalakrishnan highlighted the creation of a fascinating new open access platform, Sahapedia, due to be fully operational by November 2015 and contain documents and media in a variety of formats cataloguing Indian culture and heritage. Finally, an informative presentation from Dr T Mohan, advisor to Department of Biotechnology explained the Open Access Policy currently adopted by both the Department of Science and Technology and Department of Biotechnology.

After a brief break for networking and of course refreshments of chai, the panel discussion on Open Access: Policies and Future Directions began.

Open Access: Policies and Future Directions Panel. (L-R) Dr. Anindya Chatterjee, Prof. Uma Kanjlal, Dr. Neeta Verma, Mr. Andrew Telford and Mr. Sanjiv Goswami

Open Access: Policies and Future Directions Panel. (L-R) Dr. Anindya Chatterjee, Prof. Uma Kanjlal, Dr. Neeta Verma, Mr. Andrew Telford and Mr. Sanjiv Goswami

Chaired by Dr Neeta Verma, Deputy Director General of the National Informatics Centre, the Panel members Professor Uma Kanjlal, IGNOU, Dr Anindya Chatterjee, IDRC, Mr Sanjiv Goswami, Springer India and I discussed models and mechanisms which have been implemented to assist Open Access – from research publication to massive open online courses. It was very interesting to see the breadth of ideas being circulated as well as the priorities for supporting open access, with DST and DBT’s policies geared towards allowing   6-month embargos whereas RCUK’s preference is for open access publication in the first instance (through APCs).

There was strong agreement throughout the day that not only is open access becoming increasingly feasible due to ease of information accessibility through new technologies but also that it must be a core aim for publically-funded science to assist maximum economic and societal returns. The fact that India is engaged in the open access debate is exciting because facilitating the sharing of research will lead to the development of even more new and exciting ideas, and create new possibilities for collaboration between researchers in the UK and India.

TERI’s summation from the seminar can be found here.

Andrew Telford on joining RCUK India

By Andrew Telford, Senior Programme Manager, RCUK India. 

This is my first (and rather belated) blog post for RCUK India, having joined the team in October last year. It’s been a busy couple of months for my wife and me, we were married just two weeks before moving over to Delhi, and I’m delighted to report that so far India has been incredibly good to us. We’ve enjoyed venturing around the old town of Delhi, taking in the historical sites (including the one and only Taj Mahal in Agra), celebrating Diwali, sampling the delicious food, seeing exiting wildlife and meeting a whole host of lovely people.

Andrew in Old Delhi

Andrew in Old Delhi

Having worked for the Research Councils for a number of years I have had the good fortune to see firsthand, from the UK side, the appetite for collaborative working with India as well as the vital role RCUK India  plays in realising this. I am absolutely delighted to have joined such a high-performing team and am looking forward to working towards  taking the India-UK research agenda to a greater height.

It has been an exciting first few weeks for me, meeting colleagues from both the UK funding agencies based here at the British High Commission, as well as colleagues from various Indian research funding agencies – too many of which to mention individually here. I have been struck by the genuine passion that people have for progressing collaboration between our two nations and, having lived here for a few weeks, it is easy to see why. India is an incredibly vibrant and exciting country full of incredible opportunities and there is a real sense optimism that makes working here all the more enjoyable.

It has been a privilege to be involved in the final preparation of the 4th UK-India Science and Innovation Council meeting, in which the Indian and UK governments committed to setting up a £50 million Netwon-Bhabha Fund over the next 5 years, to be utilised for multidisciplinary programmes in science, research and innovation.

The Newton-Bhabha Fund will undoubtedly increase our ability to progress world leading research for the benefit of both India and the UK by establishing strong and long lasting research linkages through joint centres, projects and access partnerships. It will also accelerate the deployment of research knowledge and innovation capacity building as well as pave the way for the next generation of researchers to collaborate through PhD exchanges and post-doctoral training and mobility schemes.

Andrew exploring Delhi on a cycle

Andrew exploring Delhi on a cycle

In short it is an extremely exciting time to be working  for RCUK India and I am very much looking forward to making a contribution towards delivering strategic, long-term research partnerships between the UK and India.

EU India Social Sciences and Humanities platform launched

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India

Equip logoIn a recent blog, I wrote about an EU India Social Sciences and Humanities Platform (EqUIP) that has been in gestation for a while.  I am now very pleased to say that the Platform was successfully launched at a high profile event in New Delhi on the 14th October 2014.

EqUIP, which is funded by the European Commission to the tune of €1.5 million, brings together 12 European research funding organisations with key funding agencies in India to develop a stronger strategic partnership in social sciences and humanities.

We were honored to have the Ambassador of the EU to India, Dr João Cravinho, as one of the key note speakers.  Dr Cravinho spoke of the vital importance of research and innovation to the European Union – as illustrated by the €80 billion Horizon 2020 programme that started last year.  He also emphasized the importance of cross-cutting, inter-disciplinary research for enhancing socio-economic impact and for evidence based policy making.

As well as the Ambassador to the EU, we were lucky to have Mr Amarjeet Sinha, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Human Resources Development – which the main funding agency in India for social sciences and humanities research – as the other key note speaker.  A big challenge facing India, he said, was the huge cohort of 16-23 year olds (ca. 150 million) which needs to have access to higher education and training.   The numbers are mind boggling!

EqUIP launch: (L-R) Dr Nafees Meah RCUK India; Prof Ramesh Dadhich, ICSSR; Prof Sukhadeo Thorat, ICSSR, Dr João Cravinho, Ambassador of EU to India; Mr Michael Bright, ESRC, Ms Ainhitze Bizkarralegorra Bravo, EURAXESS Links India and Mr Amarjeet Sinha, MHRD

EqUIP launch: (L-R) Dr Nafees Meah RCUK India; Prof Ramesh Dadhich, ICSSR; Prof Sukhadeo Thorat, ICSSR, Dr João Cravinho, Ambassador of EU to India; Mr Michael Bright, ESRC, Ms Ainhitze Bizkarralegorra Bravo, EURAXESS Links India and Mr Amarjeet Sinha, MHRD

We had many distinguished guests in the audience, including members from the Steering Committee from the participating European research funding agencies.  We were also graced with the presence of the British Deputy High Commissioner to India, Mr Julian Evans, who said that it was great to see the UK’s ESRC taking a leading role in this importance EU initiative on strengthening cooperation on research with India.

The formal launch was followed by an evening reception.  During the reception we took the opportunity to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between AHRC and the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR).  It turns out that ICHR already sends many scholars to the UK – which is not surprising because historians who are interested in the last 300 years have a treasure trove of documents available to them in the India Office Archives held at the British Library.  At the same time, many British historians interested in the South Asia region regularly visit India in pursuit of their research. The new MoU will help formalise and structure the exchange of scholars.

All EqUIP partners were united in ensuring that the launch got off to a great start.

The event got good local media coverage. See Hindu Business line; the Echo of India; ABP News. See Flickr photos.

To know more please visit www.equipproject.eu

The US Research Landscape

By Stephen Elsby, Director of RCUK US

Three years in, and I’m just about comfortable with the idea of sharing my perceptions of the US research funding landscape. That said, you never stop learning, so I present below a few thoughts with a hope that it will start a dialogue.

The USA (both public and private sector) is still the largest investor in research and innovation in the world. Ten years ago this was quoted as about 40% of world spend, however this figure has been steadily falling largely due to increasing spend elsewhere. Regardless of spend relative to the rest of the world (and it’s telling that this is still the kind of metric used) the US maintains world leading universities, researchers and facilities through an extensive network of federal funders, state funders, industry, foundations and university endowments. Because of this quality and the size of potential collaborative opportunity, the US remains a clear priority for UK researchers and the Research Councils.

The first really big UK versus US difference to consider is the yearly budget appropriations process. Whilst this might be considered a planning challenge in itself, impasses between the Senate and the House of Representatives have led to continuing resolutions (a rollover of previous yearly funding allocation with a reduction in flexibility to start new activities), sequestration (automatic cuts in previous funding levels) and even the shutdown of federal government. Being British, my natural recourse is to articulate my views on this through a major understatement. The UK system (Haldane and all) seems somewhat more nurturing. However, be it through the sheer size of research spend, the role of non-governmental funders (foundations, industry, endowments), talented researchers, indomitable research funders or any combination of these and other factors; it works. Indeed not only does it work, but we can and do work very well with the US.

Federal investment in research enjoys broad cross-party support with some notable exceptions (e.g. global warming). Favorable budget settlements in the UK and the US demonstrate the importance both our countries place in basic research as a driver for prosperity. However, the dialogue in the US around the importance of research investments does seem to be more public and politicised. In really crude terms the sums involved and the role the agencies play in the innovation chain mean that this Federal funding is directly linked to State level prosperity and this is naturally political. Congress in particular has an active role in managing the federal research budgets (often with an opinion on the validity of individual line item requests). Mission agencies (e.g. DoE, DoD) are particularly well scrutinized, whilst the more fundamental funders (e.g. NSF) tend to have more flexibility in funding. This interplay between the federal system and individual states is part of what knits the US together. It means that, to a varying degree, Federal research spend often not only has to demonstrate delivery against research priorities but also against a wider range of political objectives.

Compared to the UK, the US has a huge number of research funders. Almost every federal agency has money set aside for research and each has to justify the uniqueness of their research activity. This can make it difficult for US agencies to work together, although bodies such as the President’s Office for Science and Technology Policy work to ensure dialogue and the alignment of activities. The more mission led funders (e.g. DoE) tend to cover more of the innovation chain than the Research Councils, which makes it important to consider partnership with other UK stakeholders when approaching these agencies. Whilst there are some obvious partners, from a Research Council point of view, there are yet to be explored wider opportunities to develop partnerships across this complex landscape.

Finally, the size of US funding and its national excellence does seem to have led to less focus on international collaboration, though the growth of other countries investments have started to challenge this. UK research excellence, cultural similarities and historical linkages mean that there is already a great deal of researcher led UK/US research collaboration. A “special relationship” does certainly exist but this has and continues to be hard earned through the demonstrable extra impact afforded by collaboration.

A lot of words, and I’ve already had to limit the topics covered. I have made some generalisations that others might not think helpful so would really appreciate comments.

EU India social sciences and humanities platform soon to take off

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India

Equip logoOver the past few years, UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Arts and Humanities
Research Council (AHRC) along with sister European funding agencies have been busy building up a strong portfolio of collaborative research.  For example, NORFACE (New Opportunities for Research Funding Agency Cooperation in Europe) has developed joint research programmes on such topics as the Re-Emergence of Religion as a Social Force in Europe.  HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) recently launched a joint programme on Cultural Encounters.

Both networks are now in a strong position to explore international opportunities.  It is in this context that the EU recently funded the EU-India Social Sciences and Humanities Platform (EqUIP) with a grant award of €1.5 million.

India is at the cusp of a rapid social transformation.  Over the next 20 years or so, there will be massive urbanisation.  New cities will be built and, along with them venerable old cities like Varanasi, will be modernised.  As with the industrial revolution in Europe, this rapid change will throw up all sorts of issues.  Therefore, it is a really exciting time to research and observe this transition.

What will EqUIP do?

Hands meeting around a basketLed by ESRC and the India Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), EqUIP will bring together 12[1] European research funding organisations with sister organisations in India in order to develop a stronger strategic partnership. The idea is that it will step up EU-India collaboration through sharing best practice, networking and the closer coordination of existing collaborative activities and establishing new relationships. As well as this, it will map existing collaborative activity and identify opportunities and priorities for future research collaboration by holding six major international conferences over the next three years.

It will be formally launched by the EU Ambassador to India on the 14th October 2014 at a high profile event in New Delhi.  This brief blog is just to whet your appetite for the exciting research collaboration that is to come between the best in Europe with the best in India.

[1] UK (ESRC, AHRC), Finland (AKA), France (ANR), Italy (APRE), Germany (DFG, DLR), Portugal (FCT), Slovenia (MIZS), Netherlands (NWO), Norway (RCN) and Austria (ZSI)

 

A remote ingredient spicing the new emerging India

By Dr Monika Sharma, Senior Programme Manager, RCUK India

Until October 2011, when I was an enthusiastic researcher, all that attracted my attention was to publish research in high impact factor journals. Thereafter, to taste something different, I joined Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) where my major task was to disseminate information on various research funding opportunities for young and established Indian researchers. In this new role, I had the privilege to interact with the Indian scientific community, wearing the hat of an international science administrator, where one can actually understand the way the Indian scientific community is looked upon with respect to the changing global landscape of science, technology and innovation.

According to Evidence for Changing Trends, India’s Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) recent bibliometry study of India’s scientific publication outputs during 2001-10, India are expected to  emerge as one of the important scientific powers during the next two decades. This was concluded after analysis of changing trends in Indian scientific research outputs,, India’s growth performance in Science Citation Index (SCI) publications, changing trends in citation impacts and many such relevant parameters.

In the backdrop of this exhaustive study, which reflects the potential of Indian scientific community,  I have also witnessed this ongoing transition at the ground level while interacting with young Indian students, researches and non researchers. There are two instances that come to my mind which have made me proud and at the same time astonished at the way science in today’s India is perceived:

The first instance was at a recent education fair at Science City, Ahmedabad, Gujarat where at a workshop the visitors had the opportunity to see how a cancer cell differs from a non-cancer cell. Amongst the visitors was a family, from a remote village close to Ahmedabad, accompanying their little daughter (a student of class 9), who had insisted that her parents bring her to this workshop. By speaking with the family I learned that the girl wanted to understand what was happening at the workshop and was keen to see the types of cells displayed. However her parents would not let her investigate further  as they feared she may catch cancer just by seeing the cancerous cells.

The fears of the parent made me sad their effort to bring their daughter to the workshop was applaudable. I tried to provide a simple explanation of genetics and the science behind cancer, and was eventually able to assure them that nothing wrong was going to happen to their daughter. After long discussions that included providing examples from day-to-day life, the family was convinced to let the girl see the cells

I was elated by this but to my surprise the family returned,  after a couple of hours,  to tell me that their daughter wishes to be a scientist one day, carry out cancer research and would like to know what would be required to achieve her goal. Another inspiring story whilst touring the backwaters of Kerala, was that of a ferry driver. He owned a small boat and made a living  transporting the locals of remote villages surrounding Kuttanadu (Alappuzha, Kerala). Of all the money he made from ferry crossings 70% was reserved to support the education of his son who is studying engineering in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He was delighted to tell me that his son would be an engineer one day and the first to graduate in his whole village. I could not gather enough courage to ask him how much he earns and how he manages the needs of the rest of the family members.

Nonetheless, the message  was crystal clear and reinforced the fact that remote India is equally part of new changing trend.

May 2014 begins my association with Research Councils UK (RCUK) India at the British High Commission, New Delhi, where I look forward with a new lens to see many more emerging trends which I am keen to explore and share.

So watch this space!

Brains, workshop and a palace!

By Geeny George Shaju, Communications Manager RCUK India.

It’s interesting to note how workshops bring together the best minds; minds that are passionate about their work and want to share their expertise and knowledge. And there is no mind without a brain.

On this occasion it was the Aetiology and life course of substance abuse and relationship with mental illness workshop held by the UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) – NIMHANS– the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The workshop was facilitated by RCUK India along with the UK’s Science and Innovation Network and hosted at NIMHANS, Bangalore, from February 26-28, 2014.

Participants were tasked with scoping out potential scientific opportunities for collaboration between the UK and India, researchers from both countries discussed various aspects of addictive disorders and their relation with mental health.

In short it was brains working for the wellbeing of brains!

You see NIHMANS is a brain bank, the only one in India, and is a repository of human brain tissue available for research. NIMHANS organised a tour of the bank for all the delegates, which offered a perfect venue for some cerebral discussions.

I may have felt like bird brain being among the experts but I showed I had the stomach for it – see the picture below!

Brains at NIMHANS Brain Bank

Brains at NIMHANS Brain Bank

Leading researchers, from the Universities of Oxford, Liverpool, Bristol, Exeter, Imperial College and King’s College London represented the UK, along with Indian researchers from All India Institute of Medical Sciences Delhi, Central Institute of Psychiatry Ranchi, Lokopriya Gopinath Bordoloi Regional Institute of Mental Health Tezpur, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research Chandigarh, Regional Institute of Medical Sciences Manipur, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital Delhi and several from NIMHANS.

The workshop focused on three main topics:

  1. Differences in trajectories of endophenotypes
  2. Effects of environmental influences
  3. Reciprocal relationships between substance use and other mental health conditions
(L-R) Dr Louisa Rahemtulla, Dr Mark Palmer from MRC, Prof Huge Perry from University of Southampton, Dr Mathew Varghese from NIMHANS, Dr DK Shukla and Dr Harpreet Sandhu from ICMR at the plenary session summarizing the discussions at the workshop

(L-R) Dr Louisa Rahemtulla, Dr Mark Palmer from MRC, Prof Huge Perry from University of Southampton, Dr Mathew Varghese from NIMHANS, Dr DK Shukla and Dr Harpreet Sandhu from ICMR at the plenary session summarizing the discussions at the workshop

The discussions highlighted great enthusiasm to collaborate from both sides, with some excellent opportunities for partnership.

For my own grey matter these discussion may be too technical, but the fact is these discussions are an effort to keep mental health intact, especially that of the younger generation and the world around it. At this workshop, I realised that research transcends geographical territories. The UK and India have a wealth of expertise, facilities and a rich socio-cultural diversity that offers a great opportunity to develop world-class collaborations For the mutual benefit of both countries.

Deliberations gave way to some interesting areas where the UK and India could partner up including cohort studies, capacity building and scholar exchange.

And what started as a scoping workshop came to a promising conclusion, with both MRC and ICMR officials agreeing to explore areas of joint activities. Soon after the workshop, the UK delegates set off to Mysore, 140kms from Bangalore on a cultural excursion to take in a bit more of incredible India.

UK researchers interacting with young faculty/researchers at a poster session at NIHMANS

UK researchers interacting with young faculty/researchers at a poster session at NIHMANS

We visited the famous Mysore Palace and Chamundi Hills and temple and even found time to explore local cuisine, shop for spices and silk scarves.                                                                   

The city of Mysore resonates how both the countries go back in time to share history, culture, development and exchange. The beautiful palace is an amalgamation of rich European (particularly British) art work, mosaic and tiles.

The Royal Family of Mysore set up the first Hydro Electric Project in 1902, and also that Bangalore was the first city in India to get electric street lights in 1905.

So much to see, know and learn – all for mental health!

Chamundi Temple

Chamundi Temple

UK delegates outside the Mysore Palace

UK delegates outside the Mysore Palace