Institute of Life Sciences (ILS) was established in the year 1989 as an autonomous institute under the administrative control of Govt. of Odisha. In 2002, it was taken over by the Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India. The Prime Minister of India Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee dedicated the institute to the nation in July 2003.
The research activity of ILS focuses on basic, applied, translational and interdisciplinary focus areas. These research activities are performed by 26 faculties and are supported by 150 research fellows, 25 post-doctoral fellows, and women scientists, as well as more than 100 project staff. During the year, several significant research outputs have resulted in better understanding of the ongoing research questions which are broadly categorized into basic cellular and molecular mechanisms of cellular and genetic function and their roles in growth and development, disease progression and management. Significant findings from the cancer biology group include identification of biomarkers involved in the invasion and metastatic pathways of OSCC, scientists have designed to find out the potential kinase(s) which are major driver(s) of 5FU resistance in OSCC, for which a CRISPER based kinome screening was employed on 5FU resistant OSCC lines, the role of fluvastatin in pancreatic cancer, significant tumor reduction after treatment of EVI1-positive cells with kinase inhibitors, development of mucins for promoting bone regeneration, and nano formulation for cancer therapy have been some of the significant research observations during the year. In the infectious diseases group, scientists have established that de novo heme pathway is associated with disease virulence and induces cerebral pathogenesis by promoting hemozoin formation. Significant progress has been made in repurposing Telmisartan against Chikungunya and identification of novel host factors that can serve as potential therapeutic targets to curb Chikungunya virus lifecycle. The liver-specific molecular mechanisms that drive dengue disease severity and immunopathogenesis have also been clearly deciphered highlighting the significance of liver infection in progression to severe dengue. There has been major leads in the candida albicans research at ILS, scientists have found that Commensal fungus Candida albicans maintains a long-term mutualistic relationship with the healthy host. Candida albicans can be used as a probiotic, especially in obese people or people dependent on high fat calorie intakes to manage obesity associated complications. In the plant and environmental biotechnology group, the major highlights include deciphering the reference-grade genome of nutritionally-rich Moringa species and reporting the genomic and transcriptomic resources for pulses and millets. The group has also developed synthetic promoters for viral diseases and have characterized them in transgenic systems. Scientists at ILS have reported the first detailed structural and functional characterization report for the plant-specific HDT nucleoplasmins and has been pivotal in understanding the nucleoplasmin function of HDTs.
Platform Facilities at ILS
Realizing the importance of preclinical animal models for SARS-CoV-2 related studies, under the mission COVID Suraksha, DBT-BIRAC has supported DBT-ILS to establish an ABSL-3 platform and comprehensive immunogenicity platform to provide services on a fee-for-service mode. During the last year, our animal models were standardized with two well characterized isolates of SARS-CoV-2 which reproduce the lung pathology similar to human COVID-19 patients. Our findings on SARS-CoV-2 infection in Syrian Golden Hamsters provided strong molecular evidence that supports the clinical relevance of this model in COVID-19 research. The comprehensive immunogenicity platform is also fully functional for the assays related to viral diseases. The established platforms will cater to the needs of academia and industry across the country.
Scientific entrepreneurship and ecosystem
DBT-ILS Bhubaneswar has taken a major step forward in promoting entrepreneurship in the biotechnology sector by establishing a biotech incubator. The bioincubator at ILS has been focusing on domains such as bioinformatics, biopharmaceuticals, bioprocessing, industrial biotechnology, MedTech, food and wellness, indigenous biotech products, agriculture, and allied area. The aim is to nurture early-stage inventions and develop them into technologies and products with hand-holding at various stages. The center nurtures promising new ideas to help them form emerging biotech companies and supports them through the phases of their entrepreneurial growth. Till date the Bioincubator has supported a total of 33 startups. Currently, 23 are incubated, and 10 startups have graduated. This year has evidenced, startups gaining traction, and many government financing programs have recognized and supported them. In a nutshell, the impact created so far are; 3 products have been launched, 17 provisional patents have been filed, 4 patents have been granted, 11 trademarks have been registered, and 30 prototypes have been made. In addition, the incubator has routinely organized technical training programs to create a pool of skilled human resources, and more than 2100 people have benefited. DBT ILS Bioincubator is constantly enabling start-ups that could be aligned with the strength of the institutes as well as encouraging faculties and students towards translating science from bench to bedside.
Science outreach program
Science outreach programs at ILS is conducted throughout the year. The programs are targeted to include school and college students, with an overall objective of inculcating scientific temper among the younger generation. The year included programs on the National Science Day, which saw the participation of more than 500 students at ILS. In the activities of the science outreach program, students from various schools and colleges were provided exposure to the scientific infrastructure and equipment at ILS. Model laboratories related to the ongoing research activities of ILS were demonstrated to the visiting students. The other programs during the year were International Women’s Day conducted on the theme, DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality, ILS representation at the India International Science Festival where we reached out to students across the county creating awareness on the various topics that ILS is involved in. During the year, ILS hosted notable science laureate Dr Harold E Varmus. Dr Varmus addressed the gathering at ILS, which included several school students, clinicians and researchers from institutions across the city.
Interventions for societal benefit
ILS has been working with rural and tribal communities in the aspirational district of Nabarangapur and Koraput on farmers’ empowerment and economic enhancement. Several programs on integrated farming approach, scientific cultivation methods, value addition, product development, and nutritional awareness have been implemented. These initiatives have benefited many farm families. A new program on establishment of a Biotech-KISAN hub has been initiated during the year, with focus on promotion of biofortified crops, scientific fisheries, and horticultural and tuber crops in the region. DBT-ILS is carrying out these societal activities in partnership with many institutions across Bhubaneswar, which currently include ICAR-NRRI, ICAR-CHES, ICAR-CIFA. In the Tigiria region of Cuttack district, large-scale cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants is undertaken for utilization of degraded farmlands, along with the establishment of a distillation unit for medicinal plants.
Based on our past research observations and expertise and in addition to our ongoing research activities we are aiming to strengthen institutional innovation and align our research with the DBT-recognized thematic sectors of Bio-manufacturing. DBT-ILS has identified several short-term and long-term research initiatives with an overall goal of facilitating precision therapeutics and climate-resilient agriculture in the coming year.