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New hope for spinal-cord injury patients

Explaining, Aleem Ahmed Khan, a scientist at DCMC and the paper’s corresponding author, said their strategy, in short, involves growing nerve cells on biological constructs — or scaffolds that act as a three-dimensional platform.

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Spinal Cord Injury

Bengaluru, Nov 5 : Researchers in Hyderabad are developing a new strategy for the treatment of spinal cord injury (SCI) for which currently there is no satisfactory cure.

Spinal cord is a bundle of nerves running down the middle of one’s back that carries signals back and forth between the body and the brain. SCI, which disrupts the signals causing temporary or permanent changes in its function, is a medical emergency. Its treatment requires restoration of structural and functional aspect of damaged neurological tissues in the spinal cord.

Recent developments have showed that transplantation of “human neural precursor cells” has the potential for reconstruction of the neural network at the site of damage in patients suffering from SCI. However, to provide better treatment, the grafted precursor cells must survive long enough and differentiate into neuronal cells — which are functional units of the nervous system. This has remained a challenging task.

Now researchers at Deccan College of Medical Sciences (DCMC) and Dr. Habeebullah Life Sciences — both in Hyderabad — report a strategy that is claimed to meet these objectives. They have successfully evaluated their approach in an animal model.

Their study, reported in the journal “Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology”, describes a translational approach to “bioengineer functional neurological constructs for the treatment of SCI defects”.

Explaining, Aleem Ahmed Khan, a scientist at DCMC and the paper’s corresponding author, said their strategy, in short, involves growing nerve cells on biological constructs — or scaffolds that act as a three-dimensional platform.

“On transplantation (into a patient), these constructs can function for long term and help to regenerate the nerves affected by (SCI).”

Being tissue specific, the biological construct is immunologically tolerable and is enriched with several crucial “neurotrophins” — which are small proteins — needed to regenerate the damaged neural networks at the damaged site of the spinal cord, Khan told IANS in an email.

“Developing such scaffolds which provide mechanical and biological support for long-term survival and function of neurological cells is highly desirable and can potentially change the treatment strategies in SCI and other neuro-degenerative applications,” he said.

“Construction of immunologically tolerable cell-laden scaffold is an interesting development,” Praveen Kumar Vemula, Research Investigator at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bengalur, told IANS. “This research has shown encouraging direction, which needs to be evaluated further.”

According to the researchers, applicability of the bio-engineered constructs was tested by transplanting the constructs in Wister rats. Khan said: “All the animals survived the entire duration of the study (14 days post-transplantation) which revealed that these constructs are immune-compatible.”

They conclude that the engineered neuronal constructs, being natural biological scaffolds, were well tolerated by the host and may serve “as one of the potential options” for regenerating the neuronal connections damaged by SCI.

“Further preclinical testing and optimisation of this approach in animal models will likely provide a more authentic road map for approaches for its future clinical applicability,” says their report.

(K.S. Jayaraman is a veteran science journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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Enhancing employability for young Indians: Lessons for policymakers, academics

What can we do to improve the quality of millions of graduates coming out of India’s education system? How can India convert millions of “degree flaunting” millennials into employable young men and women?

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Enhancing employability

Like many proud Indians, I get upset when faced with alarming reports that point to the poor employment rate of India’s college and university graduates.

The IT industry body Nasscom’s reports point to the inadequate technical skills and low employability rate of India’s engineering graduates. The effort money that the $167 billion Indian IT industry has to invest in imparting months of intensive training before fresh engineering graduates can become productive on basic software jobs brings out the deficiency of our higher education system in creating job ready engineers.

Management education portal MBAuniverse.com‘s report on the industry-readiness of MBA graduates from over 2,000 Indian management schools of some significance, barring the top 200 business schools, points to dismal employment prospects for over 300,000 young men and women who annually join the employment market.

Conversations of academics at the assessment and job placement platform HireMee with recruiting managers too point to the woefully inadequate training of Indian graduates spread across different streams — ranging from engineering and commerce, to management and the social sciences — to even communicate clearly their core technical skills, leave alone career aspirations, or interest areas.

It’s a pity that India’s demographic dividend is being put through an education system that is divorced from its very objective of firing up creativity, building problem-solving skills, preparing them to work in a highly inter-connected, interdependent global work environment.

That we do have a few Islands of excellence — some of the best engineering, management schools in the world — whose alumni have earned a name for themselves, their institutions and India, is equally well known. The success of IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and IISc, can be attributed to the exceptional intake quality as a result of stringent selection criteria and liberal government funding.

What can India do to remedy the situation for a vast majority of institutions that are forced to follow the “garbage-in garbage-out” model? These institutions depend on pedagogy that has completely outlived its utility. Divorced from the world of work these, institutions have “very limited” to practically “no industry interface”.

India’s over-regulated higher education system perpetuates outdated curriculum, stifles innovation. Even serious education institutions are faced with regulations in some states that cap tuition fee that a student pays for professional programmes.

There is limited industry focus and virtually no research and new knowledge creation. This seriously limits the opportunities for lakhs of students to enroll and study in a school or subject of their choice, forcing those with finances to look for opportunities to study abroad.

What can we do to improve the quality of millions of graduates coming out of India’s education system? How can India convert millions of “degree flaunting” millennials into employable young men and women?

To begin with, education policymakers and academics must articulate what employability is and what it is not. Employability means not just the ability to get a job, but equipping young men and women with the skills, the knowledge and tools to succeed in their careers.

The employability at India’s institutions of higher education can improve dramatically once they modernise their outdated curriculum, teachers shift from unloading their knowledge in classroom to a discussion and problem-solving approach. Faculty asking pointed questions and students coming up with solutions.

I had an opportunity to debate this issue with careers and employment manager at the Sydney based University of New South Wales. My conversation with Blair Slater, a former Hollywood movie star in Canada, brought out lessons from QS rank 45 UNSW’s experience of preparing nearly 21,000 international students each year for global job opportunities.

Blair, an occasional speaker at Indian schools, says it must begins with how the faculty coach their students to think, and come up with ideas on how to enable students to take charge of their own future.

It is possible and expected of students not to know what they want to do. A ‘Professional Development Module’ for students is needed to let them experience workplace culture, the recruitment process and preparing them for a global career – through formal interactive sessions, says Blair.

When I entered the job market in 1970s as a fresher, getting a job depended on how networked and influential my parents and uncles were. Luckily for those graduating out of college today, there are networking tools like Linkedin that can help them connect with alumni and employers to get jobs. This, of course, comes with caveats: Provided they have sharpened their communication skills and learnt to write effective resumes that help them stand out. Most importantly, they better know that the communication protocol to connect with employers is entirely different from the one they follow on Facebook with their friends.

To put it simply, India needs to shift the very objective of its education system from ‘granting degrees’ to focusing on dramatically “enhancing employability”.

To me this appears to be the key shift in gears from providing employment to equipping them to the most current skills, teaching them how to market them and then to apply them on the job — especially one that she was not trained for, one that did not exist when she graduated and the one that had continuously evolved with no sign of having stabilised.

By Sanjiv Kataria

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(Sanjiv Kataria, who served NIIT as a brand custodian for two decades, is a communications counsel. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected] )

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Lakhs of towels, bedhseets missing from AC coaches – passengers are suspects

Besides, the Railways found 56,287 pillows and 46,515 blankets missing from the AC coaches in this period.

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Indian Railway Bed Rolls

New Delhi, Nov 15 : Affluent AC passengers are the prime suspects as over 21 lakh towels, bedsheets, blankets and other items went missing from air-conditioned coaches during 2017-18 an official said.

The passengers are suspected to have made off with precisely 21,72,246 “bedroll items” — including 12,83,415 hand towels, 4,71,077 bedsheets and 3,14,952 pillow covers — from trains across the country in the last fiscal.

Besides, the Railways found 56,287 pillows and 46,515 blankets missing from the AC coaches in this period.

“Together, the missing items are estimated to cost over Rs 14 crore,” a senior Railway Ministry official told IANS.

While the theft of toilet mugs, taps, flush pipes and mirrors are also reported on a regular basis, the missing bedroll items in substantial numbers has posed a challenge for the Railways, which is trying to provide better amenities to upper class passengers.

Currently, about 3.9 lakh sets of linen are provided daily — this comprises two bedsheets, a towel, a pillow and a blanket for each passenger in the AC classes.

“The maximum number of items stolen are towels, followed by bedsheets, as reported by coach attendants at the end of each journey,” the official said.

In the light of the thefts, especially of towels, the Railways has decided that the face towels given to passengers travelling in air-conditioned coaches will be replaced with cheaper, smaller, disposable, takeaway napkins, said the official.

The Railways has already started changing the cover of blankets in some sections while the frequency of washing is being increased from monthly to fortnightly and weekly.

There is also a move to increase the frequency of washing of blankets to begin with and replacing the existing ones with the newly designed lightweight blankets made of soft fabric in a phased manner.

The plan envisages improvement of linen management with the aim of providing clean, hygienic and good quality linen to passengers travelling in AC classes, the official said.

Among the 16 zones of Indian Railways, the Southern zone alone accounted for the theft of 2,04,113 hand towels, 29,573 bedsheets, 44,868 pillow covers, 3,713 pillows and 2,745 blankets.

In the missing list, South Central zone has registered 95,700 towels, 29,747 pillow covers, 22,323 bedsheets, 3,352 blankets and 2,463 pillows.

In the Northern zone, 85,327 towels, 38,916 bedsheets, 25,313 pillow covers, 3,224 pillows and 2,483 blankets were found missing.

In the East Central zone, 33,234 bedsheets, 22,769 pillow covers, 1,657 pillows, 76,852 towels, and 3,132 blankets were stolen last year.

In the Eastern zone, 1,31,313 towels, 20,258 bedsheets, 9,006 pillow covers, 1,517 pillows and 1,913 blankets were reported missing by attendants after the end of the train journey.

The East Coast railways has registered 43,318 towels, 23,197 bedsheets, 8,060 pillow covers, and 2,260 blankets as missing.

(Arun Kumar Das can be contacted at [email protected])

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Lakhs of towels, bedhseets missing from AC coaches – passengers are suspects

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indian-railways

New Delhi, Nov 15: Affluent AC passengers are the prime suspects as over 21 lakh towels, bedsheets, blankets and other items went missing from air-conditioned coaches during 2017-18 an official said.

The passengers are suspected to have made off with precisely 21,72,246 “bedroll items” — including 12,83,415 hand towels, 4,71,077 bedsheets and 3,14,952 pillow covers — from trains across the country in the last fiscal.

Besides, the Railways found 56,287 pillows and 46,515 blankets missing from the AC coaches in this period.

“Together, the missing items are estimated to cost over Rs 14 crore,” a senior Railway Ministry official told IANS.

While the theft of toilet mugs, taps, flush pipes and mirrors are also reported on a regular basis, the missing bedroll items in substantial numbers has posed a challenge for the Railways, which is trying to provide better amenities to upper class passengers.

Currently, about 3.9 lakh sets of linen are provided daily — this comprises two bedsheets, a towel, a pillow and a blanket for each passenger in the AC classes.

“The maximum number of items stolen are towels, followed by bedsheets, as reported by coach attendants at the end of each journey,” the official said.

In the light of the thefts, especially of towels, the Railways has decided that the face towels given to passengers travelling in air-conditioned coaches will be replaced with cheaper, smaller, disposable, takeaway napkins, said the official.

The Railways has already started changing the cover of blankets in some sections while the frequency of washing is being increased from monthly to fortnightly and weekly.

There is also a move to increase the frequency of washing of blankets to begin with and replacing the existing ones with the newly designed lightweight blankets made of soft fabric in a phased manner.

The plan envisages improvement of linen management with the aim of providing clean, hygienic and good quality linen to passengers travelling in AC classes, the official said.

Among the 16 zones of Indian Railways, the Southern zone alone accounted for the theft of 2,04,113 hand towels, 29,573 bedsheets, 44,868 pillow covers, 3,713 pillows and 2,745 blankets.

In the missing list, South Central zone has registered 95,700 towels, 29,747 pillow covers, 22,323 bedsheets, 3,352 blankets and 2,463 pillows.

In the Northern zone, 85,327 towels, 38,916 bedsheets, 25,313 pillow covers, 3,224 pillows and 2,483 blankets were found missing.

In the East Central zone, 33,234 bedsheets, 22,769 pillow covers, 1,657 pillows, 76,852 towels, and 3,132 blankets were stolen last year.

In the Eastern zone, 1,31,313 towels, 20,258 bedsheets, 9,006 pillow covers, 1,517 pillows and 1,913 blankets were reported missing by attendants after the end of the train journey.

The East Coast railways has registered 43,318 towels, 23,197 bedsheets, 8,060 pillow covers, and 2,260 blankets as missing.

IANS

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