Indian Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council is working to focus on compiling genomic data, applications of artificial intelligence, quantum computing in healthcare, conversion of waste to wealth and study of deep ocean wealth. The Union government is also putting in place privacy laws to stall misuse of gene sequencing data.
The Council which was formed in August 2018 is enabling the future preparedness in emerging domains of science and technology and providing an enabling ecosystem for technology led innovations and techno-entrepreneurship. The idea is to take on ambitious projects and try to work on it.
“We should move beyond genomics to help understand gene sequencing and biotech entrepreneurs need to take up related projects. India’s huge population and endogamous groups require to have a strategy which is very different from other large populace countries like China. Therefore this project requires the biotech community to come together where industry and academia can partner in our healthcare delivery system,” stated Prof. K Vijay K Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India .
Prof Raghavan was in Bengaluru for the event ‘Genomics India 2019’ organised by Bengaluru-based 20 year old company Genotypic Technology. “The project should be on similar lines of companies supported by the government like for instance the Genomes England or the UK Biopak. Now Genomes England is set up and owned by the UK Department of Health to run the 100,000 Genomes Project, which aims to sequence 100,000 genomes from NHS patients with a rare disease and their families, along with patients with cancer. Similarly India needs help define prospective cohorts, follow their phenotypes and sequence DNA to look at it from the perspective of health and disease particularly of diabetes, hypertension, among others,” he said.
We envisage the DNA sequencing task should be a 20-year old project where results should come to support our healthcare delivery systems. If India does not embark on such ambitious projects, it will be reduced to a country where we have to coattails some other country’s projects. While it is perfectly fine in astronomy for India to partner for building a 30 metre telescope, but we cannot partner with the rest of the world for genomic interpretation because we need to do it on our own, he said.
“With the increase in accessibility of Big Data, we need to put in place privacy laws. Data is now the new oil. While oil is geography specific data is not. With the data privacy law we can prevent DNA and genotype information of the population from being misused and misinterpreted,” said Prof Raghavan.
Big Data is essential and this information is important and absolutely necessary. But it must be tethered to the understanding of biology. There is a big danger across every spectrum of Big Data use. Moreover prices of gene sequencing is crashing and so we see the threat of anyone to have access to the information. This is extremely dangerous. Therefore just as we have a bill on the use of DNA sequencing in identification of paternity which looks at non-coding laws during disasters, a data privacy bill is much wanted, he said.
Date: January 29, 2019