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Dr Bala Ambati
Dr Bala Ambati


Bright future in sight


At the recent 2015 INK (Innovation and Knowledge) summit in Mumbai, I had the privilege of sharing my work in vision science with a superb cast of innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs and social activists. Growing out of the 2009 TED India conference, INK was started and has been nurtured by Lakshmi Pratury, who has a unique talent for curating and assembling leaders from different walks of life to share their experience, wisdom and challenges.

INK shares disruptive ideas and inspiring stories, and is a springboard to launch ideas into creative action. As an accelerator for select ideas and people, derived from our events, the INK network works toward turning these ideas into reality. CEOs, scientists, actors, entrepreneurs, artists and leaders from all walks of life gather for a cross-pollination of thoughts and expansion of each other’s horizons. In this column, I will focus on speakers who talked about subjects related to health and medicine.

Anuradha Acharya, founder of Mapmygenome, demonstrated how her company’s technology could transform personalised medicine from theory to reality. Mapmygenome is a molecular diagnostics company that develops personalised health solutions based on genetic tests, which help people understand themselves. By combining genetic counselling with genetic health profile and health history, Mapmygenome provides actionable steps for individuals and their physicians. The company focuses on preventive health-care through healthy habits. Dr Acharya assembled teams with biotechnologists, statisticians, geneticists, bioinformaticians and medical counsellors in Hyderabad and Delhi. Founded in January 2013, Mapmygenome started as India’s pioneering genomics company with a vision to provide better health for Indians using genetics and advanced data analytics.

Another speaker, Nina Tandon, an American of Indian origin, discussed her company, EpiBone, which has developed technology to reconstruct bones using 3D printing. This was an effort to render obsolete the need for bone grafts. EpiBone scans a patient’s bone defect and uses the patient’s own stem cells in a “bioreactor” to construct and cultivate a defect-specific bone graft. This type of exact defect repair will simplify surgery, enhance bone integration and shorten recovery, without the risks of foreign bodies. This would be a major boon for more than 9 lakh patients who undergo bone-related surgeries annually, and especially for patients suffering from congenital facial defects or trauma to the bones of the head and face. This type of patient-specific, anatomically-customised living tissue may be a harbinger of future organ replacement as it can functionally and immunologically integrate into the body.

After that, Annamma Spudich, a molecular biologist and ethnobotanist, showed the tremendous value and potential of traditional Indian plant medicinal knowledge in treating a variety of ailments. Her exhibit on Indian botanicals connected art, medicine, ethnobotany and ancient scientific traditions in a rich and meaningful way. India has a storied and long history of ayurveda and other native medicinal knowledge that are rich and ripe for tapping and translation into therapies. Her explanations of why folk stories on obtaining sap from certain plants only at midnight made scientific sense (for example, certain species open their flowers only when the temperature drops at night). These were wonderful reminders of the depth and breadth of our common heritage.

Then came Sharath M. Gayakwad, an Indian paralympic swimmer with 30 international medals, including a bronze at the 2010 Asian Paralympic Games. His accomplishments with just one arm have inspired countless young people.

I also had the good fortune of visiting the INK Live conference, where “teenovators” from across India were invited to showcase their inventions. One student invented a GPS-guided wheelchair, while another had developed a walking stick for the blind with advanced capabilities. INK Live warmed the heart by showing the deep well of creativity among India’s teenagers and students.

And, for those readers interested in hearing my 'Journey in Vision' talk, where I discuss my path in medicine and ophthalmology and upcoming advances in treatments for eye disease, here is the link:

This was but a small cross-section of the top-notch talks and interviews at INK 2015, which proved beyond doubt that India’s future is bright. I would like to congratulate and thank Lakshmi Pratury, her co-moderator M.R. Rangaswami from Silicon Valley, and the entire INK team for this wonderful event.

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