The Indian Institute of Technology Madras, inaugurated its second biotechnology lab in the campus today. The new lab will have an animal house and a National Cancer Tissue Biobank (NCTB) for research purposes.

The NCTB, joint initiative of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, and IIT-M, will collect cancer tissue samples from patients along with their previous medical history and treatment with their consent.

The animal house, which is designed to house rats, mice, rabbits and guinea pigs, will be utilised for research in medical biotechnology with special focus on cancer, cardiovascular diseases, tuberculosis and stem cell biology.

Speaking at the inauguration of the new lab, Soumya Swaminathan, Director-General, Indian Council of Medical Research, said with deaths due to cardiovascular diseases and cancer increasing rapidly in India, the country needs a tissue bank that would help in development and testing products for early diagnostics. “You need to form clusters and use available medical expertise to get a much better understanding on genomics,” she said.

For that to happen, there is a need for pan-India representation to study more diverse categories. Swaminathan said, “We need to invest in population-based cohorts and biological specimen repositories through partnerships between government, private sector and non-governmental organisations. The time has also come to harness data science and IT expertise to look at biological data and understand distribution of diseases much better,” she explained. According to her, NCTB is a step in that direction.

The bank so far has collected 1,500 tissue samples and has over 27 labs that are using this facility. S Mahalingam of the NCTB said the project intends to establish a cancer discovery genomic database.