Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nitte University Strives to Deliver Impactful Research

Come June 10th, and a group of four students studying at Nitte University near Mangaluru will be returning from USA, having completed their summer school for three weeks at University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. They stand to get additional credits for their Master of Public Health course, through this student exchange program with scholarship, under an MoU that Nitte University has signed with University of Minnesota. Under this scheme every year, four students from Nitte will get to visit the US university's summer institute in Minneapolis and St. Paul campus in Minnesota. Such global outreach programs have come to symbolize Nitte University’s proactive attitude in furthering academic standards. 

There are universities that disseminate existing knowledge, and there are universities that create new knowledge. The former type is content with just granting degrees and attempting placements. The knowledge creators, on the other hand, are often eager that they use this newly created knowledge for the benefit of the community around them. Nitte University, headquartered near Mangalore, Karnataka, belongs to the latter category.

A deemed university in the private sector, accredited by NAAC and MHRD at A category, Nitte University is the place to be if you dream of making a difference to the community around you, or even the world around you, especially in the health sciences field.

But even if your field is totally unconnected, say, mass communication, architecture, or banking, if you want to make a difference, come here, as even such non-medical courses too have the Nitte seal of innovation. Here you will rub shoulders with world-class researchers, passionate teachers, innovative app creators, fiery-yet-kind doctors, and a benevolent management exemplified by N Vinay Hegde, Chancellor, who oversees the over thirty-year old Nitte Education Trust.

The acid test when it comes to the quality of research undertaken at any institution is whether the society around it is served by such research. Nitte University and its various constituent colleges and hospitals are taking extra care to ensure such service so that their research activities are meaningful.

This deemed university in the private sector, recently got a shot in its arm when Dr. K Narayan Shetty, a renowned cardiologist based in Pittsburgh, USA, selected Nitte University to sponsor a world-class neurosciences research centre.

The Rs. 10 crore facility, one of its kind in Karnataka and neighbouring states, was recently inaugurated at KS Hegde Charitable Hospital, the attached teaching hospital of KS Hegde Medical Academy (KSHEMA), Deralakatte, a unit of Nitte University.

Dr. Shetty who sponsored it in the name of his wife Leela Narayan Shetty, revealed during the launch that he had selected Nitte University as “it has become famous nationally and internationally due to its excellent service.”

Nitte University Chancellor N. Vinay Hegde while explaining about the university’s passion for excellent service, revealed the real secret behind that success. According to him, their superlative service has everything to do with KSHEMA’s 280 postgraduate teachers across 23 super-specialities who treat 3000 patients per day in this charitable hospital.

He admitted that almost all of them can make more money by opening up their own clinics in big cities, but had taken the conscious decision to serve this rural charitable hospital and its research-oriented medical college. Nitte University’s policies of continuous investment in latest technologies and all-out support for research were attracting and encouraging these talented doctors.

The new neurosciences centre at KSHEMA will focus on neurological diseases, cancer, and early detection of certain neurological disorders that affect vision, much in tune with Nitte University’s focus on research that helps the community around it.

Despite coming from a background of social service and entrepreneurship, it is remarkable how the Chancellor of Nitte University, N Vinay Hegde has grasped the crux of impactful research activities. Nowadays, a sought-after speaker on such issues, Chancellor Hegde recently delivered a noted lecture in Mangalore University on the topic ‘Innovation in the Emerging Education Scenario’.

During the lecture, Hegde accurately diagnosed the current ills of higher education viz. degree-centric teaching / learning and institutions’ propensity to follow only one stream of knowledge be it medicine, engineering, or business. He urged all institutions to start delivering education in maximum streams and help faculty and students in connecting between diverse streams like science, engineering, and commerce. Hegde also motivated teachers and students to focus on knowledge and its applications rather than just pursuing degrees.

As a noted edupreneur himself, Chancellor Hegde has been walking this talk for many years now. Despite Nitte University primarily being a health sciences university, Vinay Hegde had directed it to start non-health schools like Nitte Institute of Communication, Nitte Institute of Banking and Finance, and Nitte Institute of Architecture, all of which are performing quite well now.

Among these, Nitte Institute of Architecture (NIA) has been the latest one, launched last year. From its ground up, NIA has been designed to deliver hands-on, practice-based architecture curriculum through mentoring by eminent Indian and international architects who will chip in as guest faculty. The institute is headed by Prof. Vinod Aranha, who is trained and qualified both from India and USA in architecture, urban planning, and sustainability.

A differentiating point of NIA is that it will allow students to undertake discipline-related work through constant internships with experienced professional architects.

NIA will also share Nitte's passion for research in that it will have a Centre of Excellence in Tropical Architecture, covering the tropical belt globally. There will be opportunities for interaction with architects working in these regions around the world.

However, Nitte Uiversity has an even bigger potential in pursuing multi-disciplinary research as its parent, Nitte Education Trust is home to several other colleges and institutes apart from this deemed university.

Today, the Nitte Education Trust comprises a medical college, a dental college, 5 paramedical colleges, a 720 bed specialty hospital, 2 engineering colleges, 2 MBA institutes, 2 MCA institutes, a college of hotel management, a 3-star hotel, an architecture institute, a communication institute, 2 technical training institutes, 2 first grade colleges, 2 pre-university colleges, and 5 schools – in all over 25 institutions with over 10,000 students, over 3,500 staff and nearly 20,000 alumni!

Such prowess in education and research by Nitte is not lost on international institutions too. For instance, Pennsylvania State University of USA recently tied up with Nitte University’s KS Hegde Medical Academy (KSHEMA) to jointly undertake research on Plasmodium vivax, one of the parasites causing malaria, once thought as less harmful, but now proving to be very damaging to humans.

The research will focus on Mangalore and surrounding areas and will fund the activities of four PhD students through sponsorship by US Government’s National Institutes of Health. The four research scholars will not only undertake their studies in India and Penn State University, but will be facilitated to transfer their knowledge to healthcare practitioners across the world.

Mangalore and its surrounding areas are particularly prone to the prevalence of this malaria parasite, and Nitte University’s success in bagging this international tie-up will go a long way in its vision of pursuing research that is beneficial for the community around it.

Earlier, researchers from Nitte University’s AB Shetty Memorial Institute of Dental Sciences, had undertaken a path-breaking fluoride mapping study with international experts which resulted in a spatial distribution map of drinking water fluoride levels in different zones across 29 districts of Karnataka.

Flouride in drinking water is a double-edged sword, as both deficit and excess of fluoride can cause health problems. While deficit of fluoride can cause dental caries, excess of fluoride (fluorosis) is more serious as it can cause muscle, bone, and kidney diseases. There is also the added concern that fluoride excess affects the poorest sections of the society.

The Nitte study successfully identified fluoride deficit areas in the state, which were mainly in South Karnataka, like Mangalore Municipal Corporation area; and more importantly, fluoride surplus areas, mainly in North Eastern parts of the state like Pavagada where fluorosis has become a serious health concern.

The Nitte team led by Prof. Chittaranjan Choudhry not only did the fluoride mapping but suggested detailed solutions for both deficit and excess and communicated the same to state and local administrations for further follow up action. The study was so impressive that it was published by the noted UK based high-impact journal, ‘Perspectives in Public Health’.

In fact, there is no end to the different initiatives by which Nitte University has been coordinating with various international agencies to further research that is beneficial to the society around it.

Nitte University had co-funded and undertaken a research study to predict how global warming will affect the cultivation of various shellfishes like Green Mussels and Oysters in South West India, in the years to come. The partners to this study where Swedish Research Council, Swedish International Development Cooperation, Gothenburg Centre for Marine Research, University of Gothenburg, and College of Fisheries Mangalore, and it was presented at the Society for Experimental Biology’s Annual Meeting last year.

The study found that higher temperatures and lower salinity of sea water in these areas were encouraging toxic bacteria and plankton species to over grow causing potential damage to shellfish and humans which are further up the food chain, and came with a dire warning to central and state governments to take corrective measures now itself.

An even more innovative step from Nitte University scholars, from the viewpoint of common public, had occurred recently in the form of a smartphone app. A group of doctors working with Nitte University, led by Dr. Sharon Basil, created the ‘Beat Diabetes’ android app which rapidly became the top free medical app in Google Play Store with over 1000 new users every day within its first week itself.

The team wanted to do something very unique and productive for celebrating ‘World Health Day 2016’, and being community medicine specialists, this app was their contribution. Nitte’s ‘Beat Diabetes’ app also won critical acclaim, with a 4.6/5 rating by users, and won worldwide acclaim when International Diabetes Federation appreciated it. This is the fourth smartphone app by Dr. Baisil, and one of his earlier apps, ‘Let Me Hear Again’ for deaf people had won the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology App Inventor’s ‘App of the Month’ award, making him only the second Indian to get it.

Nitte University’s popular health science courses include MBBS, MD/MS, B.Sc (Medical Imaging Technology), B.Sc (Operation Theatre Technology), B.Sc (Bio-Medical Science), M.Sc (Bio-Medical Science), M. Sc. Food Safety & Biotechnology, M. Sc. Marine Biotechnology (MMB), MPH (Master of Public Health), Medical Lab Technology    , BDS, MDS, Ph.D, GNM, Post Basic B.Sc Nursing, B.Sc (Nursing), Post Basic Diploma in Critical Care Nursing, Post Basic Diploma in Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Nursing, Post Basic Diploma in Operation Room Nursing, Post Graduate Diploma in Dialysis Nursing, M.Sc Nursing, B.Pharm, Pharm.D, M.Pharm, BPT and M.PT.

For furthering research activities, Nitte University runs 5 Centres of Excellence in health sciences and science education. These are Centre for Advanced Neurological Research (CANR), Genetics Research Laboratory, Nitte University Centre for Animal Research and Experimentation (NUCARE), Nitte University Centre for Stem Cell Research & Regenerative Medicine (NUCSReM), , and Nitte University Center for Science Education and Research (NUCSER).

They bring together collaborations with renowned universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and specialized institutes and researchers from developed nations like USA, Sweden, Japan, Korea, & United Kingdom. The focus of research at Nitte is mainly on how to benefit the Indian population by leveraging international expertise.

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