Updated: February 17, 2021 5:17:56 pm
At a time when the country relied on imported PPE kits, testing swabs and did not have enough ventilators, it was the numerous laboratories which rose to the occasion and made scientific interventions and developed indigenous technologies that helped bridge the demand and supply gap while fighting the pandemic.
Dr S Chandrashekhar, director of Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, is holding the additional charge of National Chemical Laboratory in Pune. He tells Anjali Marar about the technologies and efforts made by the Pune laboratory to fight Covid19.
Q: Can you elaborate the contributions of CSIR-NCL in the fight against Covid-19?
Scientists have come up with the Indigenous Nasopharyngeal Swabs, used to collect the swab or sample from the patient’s nasal and throat passages. The swab consists of a flexible polymeric shaft, of about 15 cm length, has short fibers which are perpendicularly deposited on the shaft tip by using an adhesive. The role of adhesive is to hold the monofilaments or flocked fibers in a vertical position. We developed a know-how document within two months, based on consolidated patent literature and characterization of nylon flocked NP swabs commercially available in India.
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We also developed a two-layered medical-grade face mask. Indigenously produced and patented biopolymer technology was used to develop this mask which was made out of GSM-60 grade cloth. The mask was tested and checked if it could prevent aerosols containing bacteria and viruses along with being subjected to bacterial filtration efficiency test, particulate filter efficiency test, splash resistance test.
Required during oxygen therapy, an oxygen enrichment unit, that intakes compressed air at 5 bar and offers oxygen enriched air at 5-7 lpm with about 35 to 40 per cent oxygen content, was developed.
For decontamination of used PPE kits and N95 masks, a decontamination chamber was designed. The lab developed a catalyst, which was tested for ozone decomposition. It facilitated reduced treatment cycle time so as to carry out maximum decontaminations in a day.
NCL prepared and distributed sanitizer solutions to multiple police stations, NGO, government offices and used it for its in-house purposes too.
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Q: Which of these projects got commercialised?
Projects were taken up to provide support and provide solutions for different problems at the time of a medical crisis like Covid-19. The technologies have been commercialised and their manufacturing has commenced.
The knowhow of the Nasopharyngeal swab has been licensed to Ms. Chembond Polymers and Materials Pvt. Ltd. (CPML), Mumbai. After getting the approval from Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), these indigenously developed swabs are now being commercially manufactured. The company has established a facility to produce one lakh swabs/day and soon, will scale up the capacity of 3 lakh swabs/ day.
With a capacity of manufacturing 50,000 masks/day, Setlab India – Pune has supplied over one lakh masks to CSIR labs, many companies, medical stores and other smaller enterprises.
Chakr Innovations has developed a Decontamination chamber – Chakr DeCoV.
Q: Lockdown and restrictions kept research fellows away from labs for several months last year. How does CSIR-NCL plan to support the students ?
In a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, all classes of the August -2020 and January-2021 batches were conducted online. Gradually, PhD students, whose research is dependent on the laboratories, were brought back. The students’ seniority was taken as a criterion while allowing the students to return. A Student Covid-19 Taskforce committee was constituted. The research funding agencies have paid the fellowships to the respective students for the pandemic period. Also, the deadline for thesis submission has been extended for all the students whose tenure was ending during 2019 or 2020. Some of the funding agencies have also extended the tenure of the fellowship. The students’ progress is being continuously monitored by the Doctoral Advisory Committees regularly. All necessary assistance required for students to complete their work is being extended.
Can you update about some of the latest research projects taken up by CSIR-NCL?
We have initiated several programs in various disciplines of chemical sciences such as performance chemicals & smart materials, aerospace materials and technologies, health, energy, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, polymers and sustainable bulk chemicals. Some of the technologies will be demonstrated on a pilot plant scale and facility for the same is being developed.
A Centre of Excellence (CoE) on ‘Specialty Polymers for Customized Additive Manufacturing’ has been established. Funded jointly by the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC), Ministry of Chemical and Fertilizers and the Research, Project Planning and Business Development Directorate, CSIR, we plan to undertake research of both fundamental and applied nature to meet the industrial requirements. The centre aims to be the connecting point for industry partners in India to develop materials and products that can be printed using cost effective, conventional printing techniques.
The Catalysis Division is actively working on the development and evaluation of various catalysts and catalytic processes, including catalytic conversion of Methanol to DME process through the dehydration route.
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