Science and technology has completely taken over our lives as two decades of the 21st century are about to end. Today, life has become so much technology-driven that one can hardly think of living without a gadget. From an electricity bulb to space explorations, it is all gift of science and technology.
Probably, this is why India ranks third in the number of start-ups in technology in the world, besides having the highest technical manpower.
If science is a systematic and scientific study of the world around us, then technology is where we apply science to create something, which can help in solving problems and perform different tasks. Technology is literally the application of scientific principles.
If we look at the world of science and technology in the past 10 years, we vividly see the advancement in scientific temperament is also on the rise in the country. Though we are little behind the advanced countries when it comes to file patents for innovations, use of technology, there has seen a sharp rise in patents, especially in the biomedical field.
Predictive analytics in medicine and healthcare
Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER) Arvind Natu said, “Technology is helping us to reach to the roots of a disease besides giving us ways and techniques to handle or overcome it.”
Mathematics too is playing an important role in solving complex medical puzzles. Natu said, “India, where the number of diabetes patients is adding every second, mathematical physiology or biology is playing a crucial role. With the help of arithmetics, scientists are trying to find out the origin of the disease, besides chalking out a method to tackle it.
“Since the field is interdisciplinary, it often requires studying basic science: One of the goals of mathematical biology is to understand basic biology. So, now we would like to know why diabetes is growing so rapidly in India? That is, we would like to understand the basic physiology of glucose and insulin etc to unravel why diabetes develops?
Doing biological experiments is difficult in this case because diabetes develops slowly, over several decades. This makes direct experiments impractical. The purpose of mathematical modelling is several-fold such as to gain understanding of the function of a biological system that appears to be too complicated to reason out at once eg organ (heart) or a disease (bacterial infection) or a disorder (diabetes/blood pressure etc) to make predictions (drug effects, medicines etc), to construct new hypotheses to test by experiments,” Natu said.
The other aspect of mathematical biology is to make models that are of clinical use, for example, HOMA is used clinically: One measures blood glucose and insulin to use a formula to calculate an index of insulin resistance, said Natu.
Mathematical models are used in cardiology (to study arrhythmia), cancer (tumour growth), nephrology, skin disease and many more. The increasing amount of data being generated and collated in various settings, including through doctors and wearable, has given rise to the field of predictive analytics in medicine and healthcare.
“The philosophy is: Can one look at the historic data and predict - based on mathematical, statistical inferential and machine learning algorithms - the outcome of a disease or diagnosis?
For example, can one predict, based on measurements today, whether a person is likely to develop diabetes or cancer or Alzheimer’s disease later in their lifetime? An alternative is make mathematical models: The hope is that a model will make predictions, which can be tested. If predictions are correct, then we can use the model to understand diabetes.
This programme has been carried out for diabetes. There exists a mathematical model called HOMA, which is widely used to understand the relative role of insulin resistance and beta-cell dysfunction in diabetes. It has recently been shown that diabetes in Asians is different from that in the West: Indians are presumably more susceptible to beta-cell dysfunction for example,” said Natu.
When we have same genes, the alleles are different. For example, in case of cancer, the drug metabolism is different for different individuals. Generic drugs are useful and beneficial in monogenic diseases but not in infectious diseases, where environment plays an important role, Natu said.
Parasitic diseases, which constitute a major global health problem, have been paid less attention as compared to bacterial/fungal diseases, which is evident through the number of drugs available in the market. But in 2015, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Dr William C Campbell and Prof Satoshi Omura for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites and to Prof Youyou Tu for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria,” said Natu.
Discoveries and scientists
It takes decades of research for scientists to get recognition. For example, Nobel Prize winner Prof Youyou Tu received Nobel in 2015 for her discovery in the 1980s. Similarly, the 2017 Chemistry Nobel prize, which was awarded to Richard Henderson for Electroncryo Microscope. Henderson helped to gain the image of the proton at the atomic resolution, which helps to keep the microscope at room temperature. Currently, the laser microscope gets heated up fast making it difficult to carry out further inspections.
Karl Landsteiner made numerous contributions to both pathological anatomy, histology and immunology, all of which showed, not only his meticulous care in observation and description but also his biological understanding. But his name will no doubt always be honoured for his discovery in 1901 of, and outstanding work on, the blood groups, for which he was given the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1930.