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Guest post: C-CAMP – A new model for enabling science in India

This is a guest post by Taslimarif Saiyed, Ph.D., Director and COO of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) (full bio below). 

India has great scientists, but has not achieved maximum output as a community in science, especially in the biological sciences.  One reason has been lack of access to cutting-edge technologies to support scientific talent. A simple example: up until at least the 1980s, common technologies such as RT-PCR and confocal microscopy only arrived in India with a 10-15 year delay. Although this deplorable situation has since improved in select research settings like the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS)the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), the National Institute of Immunology (NII), the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), and the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), to name only a few, many excellent scientists who are not fortunate enough to be at premier institutions have remained disadvantaged.

To address this problem, India’s Department of Biotechnology (a federal funding agency) established the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) as part of the Bangalore Bio-cluster. Our mandate is to establish cutting edge technology platforms and use them to provide services and training for researchers nationwide. In less than two years, we have been able to establish technology platforms including high-throughput screening, mass spectrometry, next generation genomics, confocal imaging, flow cytometry, a protein technology core and a transgenic fly facility.

In the last year and a half, we have had scientists from small to large academic settings and industry come and use our facilities. We have instituted a three-tier service model. Certified users who have undergone training with us can simply book time on a machine. Non-certified users can ask us to perform specific operator-assisted services. We also provide expert-assisted services, by lending an intellectual as well as technical contribution to a project. The directors of our facilities are true experts, which is important because high quality equipment in the hands of low quality operators is very often wasted.

Our goal is not simply to provide cutting-edge scientific services, but to be enablers of science in India. We have just set up a small innovation accelerator to help new startups, young companies that need business and technical support in addition to scientific services to accelerate their growth. We want to make sure that people understand that we are a nonprofit, funded by the Department of Biotechnology, and available to them. The response so far has been fantastic. We have had around 80 different organizations—both from academia and industry—come to use our facilities repeatedly. With a staff of approximately 70 people, we have conducted 300 substantial projects in less than two years. We also work with researchers outside of India, for example in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Importantly, we don’t want to rely only on current technologies to enable scientific growth in India. Our growth plan includes continued development of novel technologies, with seven projects currently in the pipeline. Many result from the organic innovation that happens when an academic researcher finds that current technologies can’t solve his (or her) particular problem, but that he can work with one of our technology experts to alter existing instruments or develop new ones to suit his needs. A couple of years ago, for example, our scientists at NCBS worked with Zeiss to add modules to their existing microscope, the 510 Meta, which Zeiss then compacted and launched as a new microscope, the 710. After many examples like these (in which we did not always properly safeguard our intellectual property!), C-CAMP is now beginning a formal technology co-development program with several industry partners.

We are now the first international chapter of the Association of Biomedical Resource Facilities (ABRF), which is what brings me to Orlando for ABRF 2012 in a week. Since we are the first of our kind in India, I need to look abroad to learn the nuances of running an organization of core facilities. How, for instance, do I encourage interest among scientists in developing a career with our core facilities so that we can continue to grow and attract the best talent? I look forward to cross-learning opportunities in our session – Cores Without Borders – International Models of Collaboration and What We Can Learn from Each Other – and throughout the meeting.

[about_box image=””]Taslimarif Saiyed, Ph.D., is the Director and COO of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP).  He manages C-CAMP’s strategies, operations, and business worldwide. This includes management/promotion of technology facilities, strategic collaborations for new technology creation, education and training programmes, and innovation accelerator unit. Additionally, he also oversees the Intellectual Property Management Office (IPMO) and Technology Transfer Office at Bangalore BioCluster. Prior to joining C-CAMP, Dr. Saiyed was a scientist with University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), working on neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease. He also worked as a consultant with QB3 New Biotech Venture Consulting as well as in an individual capacity for biotech firms in the US. He holds a doctorate in Neuroscience from Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research, Germany.[/about_box]


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