Mind over matter in the study of brain

Mind over matter in the study of brain

 Dr Vijayalakhsmi Ravindranath

Founder-director of the Delhi-based National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), Ravindranath was earlier a faculty member at the Department of Neurochemistry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (Nimhans), Bangalore.
In an interview with Vijesh Kamath, Ravindranath shares her current research interests, the advances made at the Centre and its future and her views on current trends in science.

What motivated you to take up research in neuroscience as a career?
It was my stint at Nimhans (1986-2000) that brought me close to neuroscience. I saw people, the young and the old alike, suffering from brain disorders. Their families too had to suffer silently. The reality struck that we understand so little of the brain and that there was no cure.

How far have we reached in understanding the brain?
A lot of research has happened during the last 20 years. But, there is so much more to understand. The brain is not a mirror. It restructures and recreates reality. Its amazing to understand how network of neuron do complex and myriad tasks.
The explosion of knowledge in neuroscience has also set the stage for translating our understanding into strategies to protect the brain from the vagaries of nature, both genetic and environmental.

Could you elaborate on the research happening at the IISc Centre?
The Centre will house experts with diverse backgrounds to work in advanced neuroscience.  Our main effort is to understand aspects of the brain from molecular to behaviour aspects. Research at the Centre will help understand age and malnutrition-related brain disorders and those related to Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.
We are confident that the research at the institute would help in shedding new light in understanding the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders besides achieving the overall goal of discovering disease modifying therapies.

Where does India stand in neuroscience research?
We are still in infancy. But there is a lot of scope. The setting up of the NBRC in 2000 was the first step in venturing into dedicated research in neuroscience. NBRC was set up with a mandate to pursue basic research to understand brain function in health and disease. We have achieved a fair amount of success but still there is a long way to go.

Why is that pure science is not attracting young talent in the country?
I feel that students are under a lot of pressure because of the aspiration of their parents who want their wards to be successful rather than happy.
The child is caught in a dilemma in trying to find out to how to convince their parents. I feel that the problem will be solved once parents get financial and emotional security. Then, they will let their children do what they want.

How far or near are we before a cure is found for neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s?
It is important t be optimistic. There is tremendous levels of research going on across the global. It is a challenging task, but thousands of scientists from different disciplines are working, driven a common goal and purpose to find solutions for these disorders.
We are all hopeful that the day will come soon when we will find cures for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Where do you see the Centre of Neuroscience a few years from now?
At present, the Centre has four faculty members. We would like the faculty strength to increase to ten in the next few years. IISc is an awesome place to work and do research.
There is tremendous scope for expanding and enhancing our expertise. Besides, a lot of bright young people have started coming back to do science. There is an exciting future ahead.

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