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Efforts at IISER Pune against COVID-19  May 02, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to threaten the health and wellbeing of millions around the world, research and innovation offer a crucial line of defence against the virus.  

Researchers at IISER Pune are applying their expertise to learn how the virus proliferates, find ways to arrest its growth, and develop tests to diagnose. They are developing a low-cost ventilator to assist with breathing and trying to model the spread of infectious disease. We hope these studies will give us better ways to prevent, diagnose, and manage COVID-19.   

Alongside research, some of our institute members are also involved in reaching out to the community within and outside the campus and to engage with the public in a meaningful manner in these times.

Research at IISER Pune on COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2

Following safety and physical distancing measures, research efforts are underway in some of these projects even as the lockdown is on, and some of the projects are in the planning phase where work may be initiated after the lockdown or based on availability of resources required.

Ventilators and PPE

Project goals


Project goals

  • To assess if early detection of olfactory dysfunctions (loss of the sense of smell) can be used as a screening method for COVID-19 patients (Dr. Nixon Abraham and team, with collaborators from BJ Government Medical College and Sassoon General Hospitals, Pune)

The team has circulated a questionnaire with a test for sense of smell that anyone can do using simple substances from around them. Do particpate in this survey and help our researchers assess the feasibility of developing a ‘smell test’ to screen for COVID-19

  • To make an ultra-sensitive nano-biosensor platform for field effect transistor based point-of-care detection (Dr. Atikur Rahman)
  • To develop a carbon nanotube (CNT)-based surveillance diagnostic tool for detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Dr. Ashna Bajpai, Dr. Sunil Nair, with collaborators from Stellargene) (in planning phase, work is yet to begin)
  • Synthesis of oligonucleotide probes for COVID-19 detection (Prof. S.G. Srivatsan and team) 
  • To develop peptide-based diagnostics: Exploring S-protein epitopes for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 (Prof. H.N. Gopi and team, in collaboration with Reliance Life Science, Ltd)
  • To develop fluorescence-based peptide diagnostics without secondary antibodies (Prof. H.N. Gopi and team, with collaborators from ACTERC, Mumbai)
  • Under the Shastri COVID-19 Pandemic Response Grant (SCPRG), Dr. Chaitanya Athale's group in collaboration with Dr. Keith Pardee from University of Toronto, Canada, will be working on developing a rapid and low-cost diagnostic test for COVID-19 using synthetic biology.

Vaccines and Drug Candidates

Project goals

  • To identify potential lead candidates against SARS-CoV-2 (Dr. Britto Sandanaraj and team)
  • To find new and repurpose existing drugs to inhibit spike protein/ACE2 interaction (Dr. Arnab Mukherjee and team, with collaborators from IGIB, New Delhi)
  • To test any effects of hydrogen sulphide, which has anti-inflammatory properties, on COVID-19 (Dr. Harinath Chakrapani and team, with collaborators from IISc, Bengaluru) (in planning phase, work is yet to begin)
  • Targeting SARS-CoV-2 Nsp13 helicase for structure-based inhibitor design (Dr. Saikrishnan Kayarat, Dr. M.S. Madhusudhan and team with collaborators from NCL, Pune and IISER Thiruvananthapuram)
  • To explore the use of amphiphilic heparan sulfate mimetics as antivirals for COVID-19 (Dr. Raghavendra Kikkeri, with collaborators from the University of Queensland)

Modelling the Spread of the Pandemic

Project goals

  • To assess the spread of COVID-19 in Pune city, through epidemiological and serological survey (Dr. Aurnab Ghosh and team, with SP Pune Univ., THSTI, Faridabad, CMC, Vellore and Pune Municipal Corporation, with support from Persistent Systems). See the preliminary findings here.
  • To produce an infectious diseases hotspot map for India with predictive capabilities (Prof. M.S. Santhanam, Dr. G.J. Sreejith, Dr. Sachin Jain) (in planning phase, work is yet to begin)

Molecular Studies

Project goals

  • Imaging the SARS-CoV-2 virus using Atomic Force Microscope to understand its morphology (Dr. Shivprasad Patil, with collaborators from NIV, Pune)
  • Generating knockout mice for ACE2 receptor as a model for studying COVID-19 pathogenesis (Prof. Sanjeev Galande and team)
  • To study metabolic pathways being dysregulated upon SARS-CoV-2 infection (Dr. Jeetender Chugh, with collaborators from SPPU, Pune) (in planning phase, work is yet to begin)

Public Engagement and Community Service Efforts by IISER Pune Members

  • Even as IISER Pune explores the feasibility of setting up a testing centre to contribute to the available capacity in India for testing for SARS-CoV-2, several members from the institute including students, staff and faculty members have come forward to volunteer for this activity. Several institute members are also contributing in their individual capacity to help debunk myths surrounding the disease and aid the public understanding of the science behind the functioning of the virus and on ways to target the virus, while also urging the public to follow government advisories on physical distancing and lockdown measures.
  • Led by Dr. Nagaraj Balasubramanian, members from the MANAV team is creating a tool that can curate COVID-19 related published information from Twitter and rate content and make it easily accessible to a general readership. The team has also created a recurring online quiz on COVID-19 to engage students with verified information on the virus pandemic.
  • Led by Dr. Pooja Sancheti, a team of volunteers from the campus is in the process of collating questions and disseminating correct educational information about the pandemic through easily accessible channels such as WhatsApp, arranging for low-cost reusable masks for the campus workforce as well as to people in the slums and bastis in the neighbourhood, putting together hygiene kits (soap, detergent, masks, sanitizers) for the campus workforce, and circulating educational material (such as stories and short videos) for children who may access these. The team is also in preparing to distribute relief kits with dry ration and hygiene products to high-risk families in the neighbourhoods adjoining the campus. 
  • Dr. Joy Merwin Monteiro and team is developing a rapid COVID-19 related literature explorer, based on contextual similarity of research articles. A website prototype has been deployed here: http://coronastory.in and the team has carried out annotation of COVID-19 research article dataset for NLP research community
  • All through this lockdown period, Smt Indrani Balan Science Activity Centre at IISER Pune has continued to produce and post simple science activities for educators and students, adding further to the online educational material. Do check out their latest collection on the Balan Centre's Facebook page.


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