IIT Madras collaborates with health technology firms to form ‘Digital Wellbeing Alliance’ to improve quality of life

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To improve quality of life for healthcare providers and seekers; and to leverage India’s strength to enhance global health and wellness care, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras is initiating an alliance called ‘Digital Wellbeing Alliance’ to deploy digital technologies with the objective of making Chennai the ‘Digital Wellbeing Capital’ of the world.

The Institute will use its expertise in blockchain, artificial intelligence/machine learning, IoT and motion capture technology to work for the wellbeing of the community, specifically the young workforce and weaker sections of the society.

The Alliance was inaugurated on July 4, 2018, at IIT Madras by Dr. Ram D. Sriram, a renowned AI and healthcare expert and is currently the chief of the Software and Systems Division, Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), US federal government.

The stakeholders of this Alliance would be academic institutions such as all the IITs, health technology companies, medical device makers, digital health players, medical institutions, corporate firms, government bodies such as NITI Aayog and certifying/regulating agencies. The ‘Global Alliance’ is an initiative of IIT Madras along with industrial partners, hospitals, and global thought leaders.

The Alliance has its own blockchain which is a decentralised platform that enables secure, fast and transparent exchange and usage of medical data with smart contracts. With the blockchain technology, the community end user is at the centre of the digital transformation of healthcare and is empowered with the right of his/her own data.

The Wellbeing Paradigm will determine India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the future. Wellbeing of a community, beyond eating healthy food and exercises, will be determined by many other factors.

This Alliance would work to foster market-driven innovation, to enhance skill development, to protect intellectual property and develop best-in-class manufacturing infrastructure, spawn new products and services around Industry 4.0. This Alliance enables cooperation of all stakeholders through blockchain for setting policy, standards and regulatory framework.

The focus would be on culture of wellbeing, interoperability, data privacy, cyber security, policy, consumer engagement and evidence and evaluation. The Alliance will be a great platform to drive the global penetration for the thriving health tech start-up community.

A workshop that followed the inaugural function included eminent speakers including Prof. Amar Gupta from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr. Julian Goldman from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School, Dr. Amit Sheth from Wright State University, Dr. Soundar Kumara from Penn State University, and Prof. D. Janakiram, IIT Madras.

Speaking about the importance of this workshop, Prof M. Manivannan, Biomedical Engineering Group, Department of Applied Mechanics, IIT Madras, who organised this alliance, said, “There are many issues that only an alliance can solve. We will brainstorm to identify those issues in this workshop. This Alliance is spearheaded by several passionate people, apart from me, including Prof. D. Janakiram of IIT Madras, Sridharan Sivan of S10 Health Solutions, Sharmila Devadas of MedioTek Health Systems, Subbarao of Chola MS Risk, again emphasizing alliance of people rather than individuals.

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Stress in Early Childhood Could Make The Brain’s DNA Remap Itself

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Our first few years of life play a crucial role in our brain’s wiring. New research suggests our experiences might also be influencing changes in our neurons at a genetic level.

A 2018 study has discovered that when mice pups are neglected by their mother, it appears to trigger ‘jumping’ genes in their brain cells. This hints at similar processes in humans that could help explain the development of certain neurological disorders.

The ability for certain genes to copy themselves and migrate from one section to another is far from unknown. In fact, we’ve been studying them for more than half a century.

These sections of code – called transposons – can produce a mosaic of neighbouring cells that technically have slightly different genetic maps, even though they belong to the same individual.

“We are taught that our DNA is something stable and unchanging which makes us who we are, but in reality it’s much more dynamic,” explained geneticist Fred “Rusty” Gage from the Salk Institute in California.

“It turns out there are genes in your cells that are capable of copying themselves and moving around, which means that, in some ways, your DNA does change.”

The fact this happens in brain cells as they grow and divide is also well established. Sequences called long interspersed nuclear elements (LINEs) were seen changing positions in dividing hippocampus cells taken from rats more than a decade ago.

In recent years, a significant amount of attention has been devoted to understanding how external ‘epigenetic’ changes to our DNA can be the result of environmental conditions.

Some have even been considered as contributing factors behind the development of neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder.

But the effect of the environment on the transposons hasn’t been so scrutinised, possibly because we assume the genes we inherit simply don’t change their code all that easily.

“While we’ve known for a while that cells can acquire changes to their DNA, it’s been speculated that maybe it’s not a random process,” said the study’s first author Tracy Bedrosian.

“Maybe there are factors in the brain or in the environment that cause changes to happen more or less frequently.”

So together with two other researchers, Bedrosian and Gage investigated how a sequence called a LINE-1 retrotransposon copied and relocated itself in the dividing hippocampus cells of mice pups.

Specifically, they paid close attention to whether the pups’ environment made much of a difference to this gene-jumping process.

Rather than create a hostile environment for a sample of the young mice, the researchers watched how mothers raised their offspring over a period of two weeks.

They were then divided into groups based on how the mothers cared for their brood, detailing how they licked them, carried them around, nursed, and rested.

On analysing the hippocampus cells of the mice pups, they found a clear relationship between the kinds of care they received and the number of copies of LINE-1. The worse the care, the more times the gene copied itself and relocated.

Oddly, this didn’t occur for other types of transposon the researchers analysed, suggesting it was something specific to this sequence.

On closer inspection, they found epigenetic factors were primarily responsible. Unlike other transposons, copies of LINE-1 were tagged less with a methyl group, the signature of an epigenetic edit.

“This finding agrees with studies of childhood neglect that also show altered patterns of DNA methylation for other genes,” said Gage.

“That’s a hopeful thing, because once you understand a mechanism, you can begin to develop strategies for intervention.”

You can watch Gage dig into even more research details in the video clip below.

Exactly what this means for humans is a matter for future studies – but right now, it’s a sign that our childhood experiences could be powerful enough to have an effect right down to the level of our genes.

This research was published in Science.

A version of this article was first published in March 2018.

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Central aid package to help medical device parks set up common facilities; Rs.100 crore budgeted for 2018-20

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New medical device parks coming up in various states can avail a one-time financial assistance of up to Rs.25 crore to set up common facilities such as component testing units, electro-magnetic interference laboratories and radiation and sterilisation checking centres under a new scheme proposed by the Central government.

According to official sources, the scheme will be implemented through a one-time grant-in-aid to be released to a state implementing agency (SIA) set up for the purpose. The initiative is expected to help reduce the cost of production significantly at medical device parks and would be beneficial to new zones planned in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP), which proposed the scheme, allocated Rs.100 crore for the initiative for the next two years. The maximum limit for the grant would be Rs.25 crore per medical device park common facility centre (CFC) or 70 per cent of its project cost, whichever is less.

The grant will be cleared by a Scheme Steering Committee (SSC) headed by the DoP secretary after screening the proposal. The CFC should go on stream within two years from the date of final approval.

A tripartite agreement should be entered into among the Central government, the state government concerned and the SIA for CFC projects. The SIA should be a legal entity set up by the state government for implementing the park project and responsible for its day-to-day management.

Of late, the government has been adopting strategies to promote localisation in the medical devices industry and the aid plan is the latest step in that direction. The new Medical Devices Rules, which came into effect in January, were introduced to remove regulatory bottlenecks in the government’s Make in India initiative and facilitate ease of doing business. The rules classify medical devices into Class A, B, C and D based on associated risks.

According to official data, the sector is valued at $5.2 billion and contributes 4-5 per cent to the health care industry. Currently, there are about 750–800 medical device manufacturers in the country, with an average investment of Rs.170–200 million and an average turnover of Rs.450–500 million.

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Feeling Younger Than Your Age Could Be a Good Sign For Your Brain Health, Scans Suggest

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Brains are the most complicated organ in our bodies. While neuroscientists are fairly certain of what certain hemispheres of the brain are responsible for, other things remain a mystery, such as why some people develop Alzheimer’s.

There’s also a lot of false information going around regarding brains. But what is certain is that keeping your brain young and healthy is vital – and certain exercises have been shown to stave off the effects of ageing pretty well.

According to new research, published in the journal Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience, there could be another secret to keeping your brain youthful, and it’s all to do with your mindset.

Jeanyung Chey from Seoul National University in Korea wanted to investigate the link between subjective and real brain age. She and a team recruited 68 healthy people aged 59 to 84 years and performed MRI brain scans to analyse the amount of grey matter in different areas.

The participants also completed a questionnaire about how old they were and whether they felt older or younger, and their cognitive abilities and perceived health were also assessed.

The people who said they felt younger than their age were more likely to get a better score on a memory test. Also, they appeared to consider themselves more healthy, and were less likely to be depressed.

It wasn’t just down to performance, as those who felt younger also had increased grey matter volume in the inferior frontal gyrus and the superior temporal gyrus -areas associated with language, speech, and sound.

“We found that people who feel younger have the structural characteristics of a younger brain,” Chey said in a statement.

“Importantly, this difference remains robust even when other possible factors, including personality, subjective health, depressive symptoms, or cognitive functions, are accounted for.”

The researchers don’t know for sure whether younger brain characteristics are responsible for someone’s subjective age or not, but they think those who feel older may be more aware of the ageing process of their brains.

Another possible explanation is people who feel younger engage in more physical and mental activity, and lead a generally more stimulating life, that improves their brain health.

Those who feel older may have resigned themselves to their age and stopped being so agile and spritely, which impacts their cognitive abilities.

“If somebody feels older than their age, it could be a sign for them to evaluate their lifestyle, habits and activities that could contribute to brain ageing and take measures to better care for their brain health,” said Chey.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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Health ministry launches process to empanel public and private hospitals across India for Ayushman Bharat scheme

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The National Health Agency (NHA), apex body to implement Ayushman Bharat-National Health Protection Scheme (AB-NHPM), launched a formal process to empanel public and private hospitals to implement the scheme to achieve universal health coverage.

The objective is to improve access for the most vulnerable, unreached sections of the population and holistically address healthcare by covering prevention, promotion and ambulatory care at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Speaking on this development, Dr. Indu Bhushan, CEO, National Health Agency and Ayushman Bharat, urged all the hospitals and healthcare service providers to maintain the motto of service to mankind and come forward to join Ayushman Bharat, India’s healthcare revolution, in spirit and deed.

“I call upon each one of you to partner with the mission through the empanelment process initiated today to enhance the accessibility for the people who need it most. I also request all the states/ UTs governments to help us in garnering the support of hospitals and healthcare providers for this path-breaking mission,” Dr. Bhushan said.

Dr. Dinesh Arora, deputy CEO, Ayushman Bharat said that the aim is to provide financial protection to 10.74 crore deprived rural families and identified occupational categories of urban workers’ families as per the latest Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) data. “We invite all private and super-speciality hospitals across India for empanelment as they play critical and indispensable role in this mission. “We are also making every effort to ensure that the empanelment process is conducted in a transparent, time-bound and non-partisan manner based on specific criteria, eligibility and guidelines,” Dr Arora added. He further said that under Ayushman Bharat, both public and private healthcare systems will get strengthened and work in partnership to provide accessible and equitable healthcare services to all entitled beneficiaries.

Following the announcement today, the State Health Agencies (SHA) through State Empanelment Committees (SEC) will start empaneling private and public health care service providers and facilities in states and UTs as per the given guidelines. At the ground level, district, sub-district and block level workshops will be held to brief details of empanelment criteria, packages, processes and address any queries. Following the workshops, hospitals interested to get empaneled can do so by visiting the web portal, http://www.abnhpm.gov.in where complete details of the process can be accessed.

The State Health Agencies shall ensure empanelment within stipulated timelines for quick implementation if the applicants meet the essential criteria as defined for general or specialty care facilities. Over and above the essential criteria, facilities undertaking defined speciality packages are required to certain additional eligibility requirements. Specific criteria are outlined for cardiology and cardio-thoracic vascular services, cancer care, neurosurgery, burns, plastic & reconstructive surgery, neonatal/paediatric surgery, polytrauma, nephrology and urology surgery.

AB-NHPM has been designed to provide financial protection and prevent catastrophic health care expenditures to over ten crore poor and vulnerable families and endow a cover for cashless hospitalization services of upto Rs.five lakh per family per year.

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