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'After all, it is the man who matters in the battle field'

by W Selvamurthy,

Biomedical Sciences Adviser, DRDO


Dr. Yellapragada SubbaRow was a distinguished scientist of Indian origin who made path-breaking discoveries of phosphocreatine and ATP, worked out the classic colorimetric method of estimation of phosphorus, and developed miracle drugs like folic acid and methotrexate, Hetrazan, and tetracycline antibiotics. He earlier promoted research into ayurveda in India. We should be proud that he was an Indian scientist with such Nobel-class achievements to his credit. I am glad to have been invited to deliver this year's oration in honour of this great pioneer Indian scientist instituted by Shri Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, thanks to the initiative of Professor K Kannan, Dean of School of Biotechnology, inspired by Mr. S. P. K. Gupta's biography of Dr. SubbaRow titled IN QUEST OF PANACEA.

Dr Yellapragada SubbaRow is a role model for scientists because the message of his life is, 'Research and Development programmes should lead to the development of products and processes which have applications in improving the quality of life on this planet'.

Even as Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) strives to achieve considerable level of self reliance in weapon system development like main battle tank, light combat aircraft, radars, sonars, torpedoes, arms and ammunitions, the R&D contributions of its Life Sciences laboratories help to keep the health, efficiency and morale of the troops even in extreme environments.

The life sciences laboratories of DRDO have, in the spirit of Dr SubbaRow's concepts, focussed their R&D efforts to develop products and processes which help armed forces personnel working in extreme conditions at high altitudes, in cold regions and deserts, under water, in aerospace and low intensity conflict environment. Their successes have had spin-off benefits for the society at large which is reached through various societal missions of DRDO: The Society for Biomedical Technology (SBMT) has developed a number of products including floor reaction orthosis, coronary artery stent, critical care ventilator, cardiac stress test, cytoscan for cancer detection, Nd yag laser for ophthalmological surgery and dental implants.

The R&D programmes of this group of DRDO laboratories cover a wide spectrum including personnel selection, trade allocation, nutrition, clothing and personal protective equipment, human adaptation in extreme environments, man-machine interface, motivation and training.

For personnel selection, DRDO has evolved the minimum physical and physiological standards and the psychological profile to be assessed at the time of recruitment. The psychological method of personality assessment and the various tests of intelligence, aptitude and personality are used for selection and placement in different technical and non technical trades.

The proverbial saying that the Army marches on its stomach signifies the importance of nutrition for the up keep of the soldiers. DRDO research on nutritional requirements of soldiers has led to the formulation of ration scales for the armed forces. DRDO provides the standardization of size roles for clothing and personal protective equipment based on the anthropometric data on 12,000 Indian soldiers. DRDO research in extreme conditions like high altitude, cold, desert, polar environments (Arctic and Antarctic) under water and aerospace environments have helped the armed forces to improve health and operational efficiency of troops. Its systemic research is the basis for the application of yoga and ayurvedic herbal medicine along with nutraceuticals and trace elements supplementation for enhancement of physical and mental efficiency of troops.

Novel methods of prevention and treatment of maladies related to environments have also been proposed by DRDO.

The mission of the Life Sciences group of DRDO laboratories is to enhance the survivability, sustainability, efficiency and lethality through R&D endeavours related to agro food, physiology, psychology and health sciences. The canvas of programs include personnel selection, hill agriculture, dairy and poultry farming, pisciculture, provision of processed foods, developments of clothing and personal protective equipment, human acclimatization in extreme environment, effective man machine interface, health and motivation. The soldier has to operate in extreme environments of high altitude, cold, deserts, underwater and aerospace. In addition, he will have to work in different occupational environments such as tank crew compartment, engine room of ship, cockpit of an aircraft or underwater in a submarine as well as in low intensity conflict environment. The mandate of the Life Sciences Laboratories is to keep the soldiers fighting fit in such environmental and operational conditions.

The Twenty-first century is perhaps going to be the century of Life Sciences where exciting findings and technologies are likely to emerge. Biotechnology, proteomics, genetic engineering, functional genomics, molecular medicine, pharmaco-genetics, preservatives, smart clothing, herbal medicine and parapsychology are some of the emerging technologies which will find immense applications in Life Sciences to improve the health and operational efficiency of the troops. Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) warfare threat and the psychological warfare need to be addressed in a concerted manner. Novel approaches for protection against nuclear, biological and chemical warfare agents are being adopted. These include the use of medicinal plants such as Rodiala, Podophyllum and Aloe vera.

The Life Sciences group of Laboratories are gearing themselves in these emerging technologies for ensuring the superiority of our armed forces as world leader. After all, it is the man who matters.


The Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS) at Timarpur in New Delhi has developed a new technique to minimize and mitigate the adverse effects of noise on the auditory system of man. The technique involves inhaling of Carbogen gas - a mixture of 5 % Carbon dioxide and 95 % Oxygen -- for 5 minutes before the exposure to noise. To inhale this gas mixture, a Carbogen Breathing Assembly has been designed and developed with the help of the Industrial Design Centre at IIT in Powai, Mumbai.

Inhalation of this gas mixture reduces the temporary loss of hearing sensitivity commonly caused by noise during initial phases of exposure. If the exposure is repeated, as in many occupational environments, the temporary hearing loss gives rise to permanent hearing disability. Use of Carbogen prevents the development of permanent loss of hearing. Carbon dioxide has been reported to be a potent otic vasodilator, leading to proper oxygenation of perilymph fluid. If the inhalation of the gas mixture is repeated at the end of the exposure to noise, it enhances the normal recovery process from temporary loss of hearing sensitivity. Thus the use of Carbogen provides a dual benefit. The use of this gas mixture as a prophylactic agent against noise has been demonstrated in controlled laboratory experiments. It has no adverse effects. Use of Carbogen has potential application for armed forces personnel and industrial workers in civil sector having frequent exposure to noise in their occupational environment. User trials are in progress in naval ships.


The primary causative factor potentiating HAPO is the pulmonary vasoconstriction entailing an increase in pulmonary artery pressure. As such the logical treatment should be to reduce the pulmonary artery pressure with the help of a suitable pulmonary vasodilator or administration of Oxygen. Since Nitric Oxide (NO) gas is a selective pulmonary vasodilator besides Oxygen, the combined effects of these two gases can be synergistic. For the first time such a successful attempt has been made in India to treat patients who are severely afflicted with HAPO by the combined administration of NO (15 ppm) and 0xygen (50%). This was a joint effort of DIPAS and High Altitude Medical Research Centre (HAMRC).

Various combinations of Oxygen and Nitric Oxide gases were tried to treat HAPO patients and it was observed that 50 % Oxygen + 15 ppm Nitric Oxide gas mixture possesses greater potential in the treatment of HAPO patients. Patients treated with this gas mixture became normal within 24 hours with reversal of the observed increase in pulmonary artery pressure. Serial X rays (chest) showed clearance of oedema. The synergistic effect of these two gases improved the oxygenation with decrease in pulmonary artery pressure. So far more than 85 patients have been successfully treated with this new modality.

DIPAS in collaboration with R&D Engineers is designing a new NO delivery system tailor made be used at extreme remote high altitude areas for early onset of treatment of HAPO patients. DRDO is also proposing to produce NO indigenously at HEMRL, Pune. Endeavour is to make this new therapy available to armed forces personnel deployed at high altitude.


The field studies conducted by DIPAS on the problems of tank crew during desert operations have identified the need for the development of microclimate cooling device to combat the high heat loads encountered by the troops. As per the activity schedules, studies on the human subjects were initially carried out at temperatures ranging from 40 to 52 degrees centigrade to determine the quantity of heat that is to be extracted from the human body to make the man feel comfortable. The results have indicated that removal of 240 to 340 Watts of body heat will be essential to create a comfortable thermal condition around the body surface. This information formed the basis of calculations, which were carried out to freeze the design parameters for the development of a Thermoelectric (TE) solid state cooling garment based on Peltier's effect of cooling. As this effect is seen in semiconductors rather at a higher magnitude, suitable semi conductor thermoelectric modules have been selected to develop the cooling unit.

In its present form, the unit is devised by using T.E. modules having suitable coefficient of performance. The modules are sandwiched between two copper plates that act as hot side and cold side plates. Water is used as heat exchanger that circulates through the grooves in the cold plate and cools down to approximately 20 + I degree centigrade. The cold water is then allowed to circulate through the thin PVC linings of the tubing which are in contact with body surface. The cold water picks up heat from the body surface and cools it.

The application of the solid state cooling garment has been demonstrated in the Human Climatic Chamber at DIPAS and also in the crew compartment of T 72 and Main Battle Tank Arjun. The system has been found to be very effective and provides more than 300 Watt of cooling at power input of 460 Watt. In this endeavour DEBEL, Bangalore and MECON Ltd., Ranchi have lent their expertise. Efforts are on for the miniaturisation of the system for reduction in size and weight.


Yogic exercise is found to improve several physiological and psychological functions in young and middle aged soldiers. It has been observed that it improves thermoregulatory efficiency, body flexibility and physical performance. It has got a great role in the management of psychological stress by bringing about mental tranquillity, reducing anxiety and depression. Thus it has the potentiality of keeping a person mentally and physically fit in different adverse situations, as soldiers have to face stress during military operations. Based on a series of studies, recommendations have been made to introduce yogic exercises in selected areas where the practice of PT may be limited due to logistic constraints.


A number of studies conducted by DIPAS scientific team have shown that Composite Indian Herbal Preparations (CIHPs) are beneficial in the extreme altitude, cold area or in low intensity conflict situations. It has been observed that CIHPs not only help to reduce the rate of morbidity/mortality in the troops but also help as morale booster as it relieves the stress among soldiers deployed in extremely stressful environments such as counter insurgency operations.

The Composite Indian Herbal Preparation I (CIHP I) has been evaluated in BSF soldiers and has been found effective in coping with stress resulting from anti-insurgency operations. The trials indicate that the CIHP I intake helps in the improvement of high cognitive functions, in better maintaining cellular membrane permeability by restricting stress-induced increase in circulating CPK, in subjective relief and in improved physical work performance.

The efficacy of CIHP II was tested in ameliorating the high altitude stress induced decrement in general health, acute mountain sickness, cardiovascular and respiratory response and other stress markers. The CIHP II was given to half of the volunteers as a build up dose of 1100 mg (2 tabs) with breakfast and 1100 mg with dinner for a week in a double blind placebo controlled fashion before they were air transported to an altitude of 3,500 meters. During their stay at high altitude for 4 weeks, the soldiers were kept on a maintenance dose of CIHP/Placebo i.e. 550 mg (1 tab) with breakfast and 550 mg with dinner. The responses were compared with placebo treated control group.

The results suggest that the administration of CIHP II before induction and during stay at high altitude facilitate the acclimatization process and restores the normal physiological and biological functions. The incidence of AMS was reduced in those soldiers who were on CHIP II. It also facilitated normalization of most of the body functions on return to plains.

In order to evaluate acceptability and subjective efficacy of CIHP II in extreme altitudes, that is, beyond 4800 meters, a large scale trial on troops operating between 4,800 6,000 meters is in progress. This trial would also indicate the effect of CIHP II intake, if any, on morbidity due to incidence of cold and high altitude induced illnesses in peak winters at extreme altitude.


DIPAS has undertaken very useful research programme in prevention and treatment of cold injuries. Studies at this institute have brought out the potential application of the extract of the Indian herb Aloe Vera. Initial experimental studies in rats revealed that local topical application of Aloe vera extract on exposed part along with oral administration as homeopathy remedy helps to minimise the extent of injury by facilitating recovery. Thereafter clinical trials have been undertaken by DIPAS and more than 250 patients have been successfully treated with this new treatment modality. Systematic observations on clinical prognosis and physiological data have clearly indicated the enormous clinical application to end pain in these patients. Aloe vera extract reduces the pain through analgesic effect, reduces swelling and oedema by ant inflammatory effects, prevents infection through antibiotic effects and prevents clotting by fibrinolytic effects. That is how this Indian herb helps in the treatment of cold injuries.

I MUST also mention that the agriculture laboratories of DRDO in the Himalayas have brought out high yield in vegetables, fodder, agro forestry, poultry and dairy farming and pisciculture for the benefits of the armed forces. Currently they are involved in the cultivation of medicinal plants.

READY-TO EAT meals to suit the palate of Indian armed forces personnel have been designed and developed by the Defence Food Research Laboratory. Some of these have been adapted and marketed by private companies.

WHILE highlighting these accomplishments as in the spirit of Dr. SubbaRow's concepts, I ould appeal to all scientists, academicians, administrators and students to re focus their R&D efforts with their ultimate aim as development of new products and processes which will lead to the improvement in quality of life of humankind and also wealth generation for the nation.

Various combinations of Oxygen and Nitric Oxide gases were tried to treat HAPO patients and it was observed that 50 % Oxygen + 15 ppm Nitric Oxide gas mixture possesses greater potential in the treatment of HAPO patients. Patients treated with this gas mixture became normal within 24 hours with reversal of the observed increase in pulmonary artery pressure. Serial X rays (chest) showed clearance of oedema. The synergistic effect of these two gases improved the oxygenation with decrease in pulmonary artery pressure. So far more than 85 atients have been successfully treated with this new modality.

(Adapted from slide show notes)