New Delhi: Several leading immunologists and geneticists of the country have been working with Ayurveda experts in a first of its kind project to scientifically try and explain the physiological reactions and processes that take place within the body during Ayurvedic treatments.
The project, details of which have not been disclosed, began late last year with funding from the government’s principal scientific adviser (PSA) office, the apex scientific advisory body to the Prime Minister.
Details of the funding weren’t available.
“It’s a basic research project and, over the next three years, we are at the most expecting some fundamental understanding of few Ayurvedic treatments,” said Ketaki Bapat, a senior scientist at PSA and a coordinator of the project.
Declining to give specifics, Bapat added that more than “10 premier research organizations”, including the Indian Institutes of Technology, are involved with the programme.
A bulk of the project deals with the scientific validation of Ayurvedic rasayana therapy.
A popular branch of Ayurvedic medicine, rasayana therapy involves the use of herbal and mineral extracts to try and rejuvenate the body.
As a part of this project, scientists will focus on how these formulations may be rebuilding deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) during treatments. “There won’t be any kind of clinical trials taking place, but there will be animal studies that show the effects of certain formulations on their systems,” Bapat said.
One such project will study the biological effects of Ayurvedic formulations, such as bhasma (minerals and metals) using the Drosophila, a species of fruit fly that is frequently used in labs for genetic experimentation.
Yet another project will study how immunity levels in patients are affected by the Narasimha rasayana, a popular formulation, and its supposed role in repairing worn out cells and DNA.
A related project will study the relationship between an individual’s genetic make-up and Ayurveda’s “genetic” classification system of doshas.
In the dosha system, every individual is an expression of the five elements of matter, defined by vedic texts as earth, fire, water, wind and air.
Ayurveda supports a large industry in India with annual production worth Rs5,000 crore and an export market of Rs500 crore, according to recent government figures.
It is estimated that approximately 1,000 herbal formulations prepared from around 750 plants are in regular use, many without any scientific studies that prove efficacy.
“The uninterrupted use and popularity of herbal formulations for thousands of years and the belief that Ayurvedic could be a viable resource for modern drug development has been a strong incentive for research and development into the herbal wealth of Ayurveda,” said M.S. Valiathan, a cardiologist who chairs the government project.
Independent experts say that such projects will require a considerable amount of investment to be productive. “Globally, there is a huge amount of interest in the herbal drugs market,” said V. Nambiar, geneticist at the department of genetics, University of Delhi.
“Already, lots of universities are spending a lot of money on basic research in this area. If we can’t consistently fund such research, the West, like in most drug development activity, might beat us to this too,” Nambiar added.