Anu Parthiban|Sep 17, 2022
Medicine In IITs: A future in MedTech
Over the past few years, several IITs have started research centres and separate schools that marry medical science with technology.
NEW DELHI: A few weeks ago, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur laid the foundation stone for the new Gangwal School of Medical Sciences and Technology. It became the second such centre to marry technology and medical sciences in the IITs. The first was IIT Kharagpur’s School of Medical Science and Technology, started in 2001.
In a bid to become more interdisciplinary, several IITs, both old and second-generation ones, have launched initiatives in the field of health technology. IIT Guwahati has launched the Jyoti and Bhupat School of Health Sciences and Technology (JBMSHST). Others have collaborated with neighbouring national medical colleges such as IIT Roorkee and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Rishikesh; IIT Delhi and AIIMS Delhi; IIT Jodhpur and AIIMS Jodhpur.
Not yet authorised to offer MBBS programmes – although IIT Kharagpur has come close – most of these centres currently offer postgraduate and research ones. IIT Guwahati’s JBMSHST, for example, is offering MTech and PhD in biomedical sciences and engineering with a focus on diagnostic devices, regenerative medicine, stem cells, bioinformatics and public health. IIT Kharagpur offers three integrated MSc-PhD programmes – medical physics; molecular medical microbiology; nuclear medicine – a master’s in medical science and technology; and a master’s in science (research).
IIT: New schools, courses
The Gangwal School aims to build an “interdisciplinary ecosystem” of research in medical technology – “medtech” – and innovation, said S Ganesh, deputy director, IIT Kanpur, who also heads the task force for establishing the school.
“The school [Gangwal School of Medical Sciences and Technology] will create a diverse research and development pool for the development of indigenous tools and solutions on various diseases,” he said. It will include nine research and development centres of excellence covering telemedicine and robotics; artificial intelligence application in diagnostics and disease prevention; cardiovascular disease research; orthopaedics and prosthetics; neuroscience; neurotechnology and mental health; non-invasive medical imaging; therapeutics; tropical and infectious disease and cancer research.
IIT Guwahati’s JBMSHST is also in the process of establishing the Assam Advanced Healthcare Innovation Institute (AAHII), a joint venture between IIT Guwahati and Government of Assam. Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, who heads the school, said: “The state-of-art research activities will be performed in the areas related to the medical devices, stem cells, robotic surgery, artificial intelligence, data analytics, transplantation and public health.” Eventually, AAHII will also include a 400-bed hospital to cater the need of the state and to provide post-graduate medical education, he added.
IIT Kharagpur already has a hospital as part of its research centre, inaugurated in March this year.
IITs and AIIMS
IIT Jodhpur’s collaboration with AIIMS Jodhpur has resulted in three postgraduate programmes in medical technologies – a master’s, an integrated master’s-PhD, and PhD. Their students will be jointly guided by faculty from both institutions in “emerging areas of healthcare technologies”.
IIT Mandi is planning a similar collaboration with AIIMS Bilaspur and the Atal Medical and Research University, Mandi. Its new centre on Indian Knowledge System (IKS) also has medical research as one of the core focus areas, said Shyam Kumar Masakapalli, chairperson and associate professor, School of Biosciences and Bioengineering.
IIT Delhi and AIIMS Delhi, set very close to each other, have been working together for close to a decade. In 2013, they jointly set up the Centre for Biomedical Engineering which offers PhD in nuclear magnetic resonance and neurology. In 2021, they established the Centre for Advanced Research and Excellence in Disability and Assistive Technology.
IIT Roorkee and AIIMS Rishikesh agreed to collaborate on education and research in 2018 and funds raised from alumni were used to sponsor a chair professorship, fund research fellowships and joint medical research projects. In 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic swept through India for the first time, the two institutes designed and built a low-cost ventilator.
On a similar note, IIT Kharagpur and All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health have introduced an online certification course on National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) starting July 25 on health promotion and medical intervention. It’s an eight-week course that lasts till September 16.
IIT Kanpur, in collaboration with Lucknow’s King George’s Medical University, has commenced a health technology fellowship, the School of International Biodesign -Synergising Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SIB SHINE) programme. The year-long fellowship sponsored by the department of biotechnology is for leaders and entrepreneurs in innovation in medical technology.
Technology in medicine
“The students will be exposed to real-world problems in the healthcare sector and will have immersive learning to identify problems to address. Medical students will have the opportunity to earn minors in science and engineering disciplines, which will effectively mitigate the gap between both disciplines. This will enable a multi-disciplinary approach in learning and in executing that learning to seek research-oriented solutions to healthcare needs,” explained Ganesh.
He believes that IIT Kanpur is addressing a crucial need for a multi-disciplinary medical school. “As medical schools in India are restricted to being “stand alone” colleges, the medical school at IIT Kanpur is coming up as a multi-disciplinary institution focusing on fulfilling the country’s medtech (medical technology) needs and creating a holistic research and development ecosystem in medical research and technology.”
Bandyopadhyay agreed that through the newly-opened medical sciences school, the students will get early exposure to real-life problems. “They [the students] will also be exposed to several skill labs where hands-on training will be provided alongside their regular academic curricula. Thus, the workforce graduating from these initiatives will have more skills and hence employability in the long run,” he added.
Further, its AAHII will be connected to several national and international centres for excellence in medicine to provide exposure to students.
Making centres sustainable
Institutes like IIT Mandi have courses like MTech in biotechnology since 2016 with specialisations in medical and nano-biotechnology and systems biology. It has also offered a BTech-MTech integrated dual degree in bioengineering from 2019 and trains scholars in biomedical engineering including areas of diagnostics, therapeutic and assistive support and computational bioengineering aimed at developing algorithms and models to understand biological systems and processes such as diseases. “As a self-sufficient course, it has till now 50 MTechs and 15 PhD scholars graduated and well placed in industries as well as in academia, “
The centres at IIT Kanpur and IIT Guwahati are dependent on endowments. Bandyopadhyay said, “JBMSHST is supported by Mehta Family Foundation for the initial five years until it becomes self-sustainable through the tuition fees from the students.”
Similarly, IIT Kanpur recently received Rs. 100 crore endowment from Rakesh Gangwal, co-founder of Indigo Airlines for the Gangwal School of Medical Sciences and Technology. Gangwal is an IIT-Kanpur graduate of the 1975 batch.
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