Annual Students Conference 2019 at CSIR-NCL

Prof. Amitabha Chattopadhyay during his lecture


Research students at CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory (CSIR-NCL), Pune, with support from the Student Academic Office organised the second Annual Students Conference during 28-29 November 2019 to provide a platform to the research students and expose them to various research disciplines providing an opportunity to know the work, concept, mindset & strategies of other research groups.

The two-day conference was spread in six sessions including oral presentations by around thirty research students of CSIR-NCL and special talks by the invited guests. Research students from six scientific divisions of CSIR-NCL, namely, Catalysis & Inorganic Chemistry, Chemical Engineering & Process Development, Physical & Materials Chemistry, Polymer Science & Engineering, Biochemical Sciences and Organic Chemistry presented their research work on various topics.

Prof. J.W. McBain Memorial Lecture was also organised as a part of this event. Renowned membrane biologist Prof. Amitabha Chattopadhyay, CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, delivered the special lecture on the first day. The lecture entitled ‘G Protein-coupled Receptors in the Context of the Membrane Bilayer: An Intimate Association with Cholesterol’ threw light on the G Protein-coupled Receptor (GPCR) starting from the early idea of the receptor to understand its evolution and various aspects of the GPCR research. The chemical substance can act as receptor for a stimulant in the body. GPCR is also called a seven-transmembrane helics because it passes through the cell membrane seven times. 

Prof. Chattopadhyay talked about the importance of GPCRs and what they do. The GPCRs allow the entry of the cell to feel what is happening outside the cell as they initiate the signalling. He talked about GPCR biology and signalling focused on the role of membrane activity, the dynamics and function with implications in health and disease. He highlighted that today 36% of drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) target mainly GPCRs. He explained how the information is encoded in the ligand-induced conformation rearrangements in transmembrane domains.

Prof. Chattopadhyay said that in the human body there are more than 800 GPCRs out of which only 15% of them are known drug GPCRs. There is a possibility that the GPCRs which are not yet recognised could be the potential drug targets for diseases related to the immune system, asthma, arthritis which cannot be treated effectively by today’s drugs. He touched upon the topic of ‘Serotonin Receptors in Neurobiology’ and explained the current classification of serotonin receptors. The serotonin receptors act as neurotransmitters in the brain and are present in a variety of organisms right from drosophila and nematodes to humans. The signalling involving serotonin includes several cognitive and behavioural functions, if the signalling is not correct it leads to troubles such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc. 

Serotonin signalling is very important to make one feel happy. Many of the antidepressant drugs are based on this phenomenon that balances the serotonin signalling making ‘Feel Good Drugs’. The pharmacological characteristics of the receptors reveal that there are 16 subtypes of the serotonin receptors.

Prof. Chattopadhyay explained the Bloch Hypothesis, how cholesterol is made in the human body with catalytic reactions by around 30 enzymes. He said that cholesterol has sophisticated chemistry but it is profitable in terms of information. Bacteria don’t have cholesterol, although they need cholesterol for survival; since they don’t have any enzyme they cannot make cholesterol. Yeast does make cholesterol. This chemistry can be applied by using those precursors to understand how life was in the pre-biotic days, to find out what is that unique cholesterol that fine-tunes the interaction with today’s proteins. It can also be studied by simulations, biophysics, etc. He said that, “Most of your body cholesterol is in the brain, as it is the cholesterol-rich part of the body.” He also informed about the highest-selling drugs today called STATINS that actually inhibit cholesterol synthesis in the body.

A special Industry talk was rendered by Dr G.P. Singh, Senior Vice-President, Lupin Limited, Pune, on the topic “Process Development in the Pharmaceutical Industry: An Overview”. Dr G.P. Singh said, “The greatest scientific achievements in any pharmaceutical industry are done by the drug discovery team. This chemistry can make wonders to the lives of the people.”

He presented the current status of the Indian Pharmaceutical Market as the fastest growing market globally with a rate of 10% per annum. India accounts for about 40% generic drug approvals in the US; over ten thousand companies operate in India, employing more than five lakh people in high skill areas like R&D and manufacturing and providing medication to 1.3 billion people around the globe.

Dr Singh said that the R&D programme is crucial for the pharma industry. Research has shown that companies with a persistent R&D strategy outperform. He talked about the opportunities and challenges in this field. Biosimilars, gene therapy and specialty drugs are seen as good opportunities and lack of capabilities in the innovation space and the dependence on external markets for intermediates and Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) are some of the challenges. 

He also threw light on the intellectual property realms explaining the criteria of patentability, which includes novelty, non-obviousness and utility. He explained the drug discovery process, API development and stages, product life-cycle and different management strategies. He also talked about polymorphism in pharmaceuticals. More than 50% of API is estimated to have more than one polymorphic form.

Prof. Suresh Bhargava, Distinguished Professor, RMIT University, Australia, delivered a public talk on the topic “Me 2 We: The Power of Collective Intelligence to Translate Knowledge-Economy into Innovation”. The motivating talk was all about the different approaches which will make a different persona. He told the students, “India is no more just a place for you but the entire world is the place for you.” 

The time has changed now, he said, the approach has to be changed. “Me” is the most dangerous word; the expectations grow fast with this approach. If a single change of “Me” to “We” happens in India, it will be a great achievement. When ideas come together, they make a huge difference; the innovation from you will translate into innovations with real products which the market wants to appreciate.

Prof. Bhargava shared his experiences and ideas which were useful for the researchers in the laboratory. He said that collaborative research holds the key to solve the problems at the local and global level. He gave the 4E mantra for better education: Expansion, Equity, Excellence and Employability. He also gave the 3R mantra for success: Recognise, Remember and Reciprocate. He concluded his talk saying “Success is that, which makes you happy.”

Prof. Calum Drumond and Prof. Charlotte Conn from RMIT University, Australia, also interacted with the students in the concluding session of the conference. The research students of CSIR-NCL were informed about the current research opportunities at RMIT University and different aspects of the research were explored during this interaction.

During the concluding session of the Conference, 12 best performing students were felicitated with trophies, certificates and prize money. 

The conference was jointly coordinated by Govind Porwal and Gayatri Salunke. More than 50 abstracts were received out of which 30 were shortlisted for presentations.

"It is indeed a great platform to showcase research work and simultaneously learn how to share knowledge effectively. One can learn about a variety of work going on in various labs and departments and this opens up avenues for collaborations," said Prashant Yadav from Polymer Science and Engineering Division.

“I gathered new insights into how we can deliver and portray our research findings within a short time successfully to a wide audience from various research backgrounds. Bringing multiple research minds to share their outcomes is a step towards broadening the opportunities to think more,” added Ms Betsy K.J. from Catalysis and Inorganic Chemistry Division.

Contributed by Ganesh Mane and Prabhakar Ingle (, Publication and Science Communication Unit, CSIR–National Chemical Laboratory, Pune-411008.