Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman praised the unveiling of a new indigenously developed brain survey device as a sign that the “Make in India” campaign is not a futile venture.
Stereotactic frame technology, which when fixed to a human head, allows neurosurgeons to carry out minimally invasive but precise brain surgery within 1 mm of the target area, including excising deep-rooted tumors, currently costs Rs 1.2 to 1.6 crores per unit, because they are imported from the United States and Europe. The high cost makes it prohibitively expensive for small and medium-scale hospitals to own, with the end result that costs of treatment are out of the reach of most Indians.
To make Stereotactic surgery more accessible to Indians, two Bangalore-based biomedical engineers, Sadashiva Bhat and his son, Sharath, developed an indigenously developed frame, building on 25 year-of research.
Their company, Mahalasa Medical Technology, is prepared to sell its version of the Stereotactic frame to hospitals at costs of between Rs 20 to 25 lakhs per unit. Dr. N. K. Venkataramana, founder and chief surgeon of Brains Hospital, said that the new model will help reduce the costs of treatment for Indians suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, heightened epilepsy and chronic depression.
“However, as ingenious as the device is, it is still reliant on a specialized battery imported from overseas. If we succeed in manufacturing the battery here in India, the cost of the frame will go down further,” he added.
Using military terms to ally neurosurgery with national defense out of a gesture of inclusivity to Ms Sitharaman, Dr. Ventakaraman described both brain surgery and the Ministry of Defense as being concerned with the business of safety – the Ministry with safety of the national body, and neurosurgery with the safety of the individual. He described the previously out of bounds areas of the brain, which traditional brain surgery had the capacity to damage, as being a “no-fly zone.”
As evidence of the Stereotactic frame’s capabilities, he showed a video of a test subject, a 60-year-old native of Tamil Nadu with severe Parkinson’s disease, who could not sit or stand still despite being on the strongest medication. Following stereotactic, frame-assisted surgery, the man was shown as being cured and capable of normal movement.
C. S. Sunder Raju, the millionaire business tycoon and Managing Director of ACT Fibrenet, who is an investor in the project, said that he was astounded to see how effective the frame was. “Watching the video gave me an insight into what this kind of technology means for the common man,” he said.
Ms. Sitharaman, who was initially hesitant to be associated with the project, was similarly impressed. “I had severe hesitations about being affiliated with this technology, because I have no real connection to the project,” she said. “But after this presentation, I see that it was relevant for me to be here. The relevance of this product is a surge to India on so many levels.”
She described the individuals responsible for its engineering as “enterprising Indians who are as a full of ingenuity as they are hardworking,” but explained that what India lacks are enough “fundas” to support other, similar ventures.
She praised Bangalore for possessing, what she described as three necessary ingredients of success, which had resulted in such a technological breakthrough – wonderful engineers, imaginative medical personnel and hardworking entrepreneurs. “It is clear, that at least here, ‘Make in India’ is not a futile venture,” she said.
Ms Sitharaman took a jab at media houses which she said too often focus on the political horserace, often at the cost of other, more important stories. “Breakthroughs such as this Stereotactic frame are stories of India we need to propagate with gusto because such things enrich our lives,” she said.
Mr. Raju expressed confidence that such breakthroughs have the capability of offering India “Strategic depth” in the realm of life-science technology. He offered the example of Israel, which while having little capital to invest, focused on two industries – armaments and agri-tech. “Now, Israel is a world leader in these two areas. India now has a similar opportunity before it,” he said.