“We should own our own survival and our own dream’

Tanusree Chaudhuri

Tanusree Chaudhuri, 38 years old, was pregnant with her first child, when her supervisor tells her that she would have had to give up his dreams.

He was doing a phd in computational biology and aspired to improve the health of the people.

“He told me, ‘you are married, why do you need a Phd? You should go take care of your family’,” he says.

He had hoped to work in drug discovery the creation of new drugs, after having studied at the prestigious Bose Institute in Calcutta, India.

But when she got married and moved to Hyderabad for her husband, he has met with cultural resistance.

“Married women should take care of the family, because without family we are nothing,” he says. “We are not expected to want the privilege to think and to do research.”

So when I came across an online “virtual laboratory” enabling researchers to carry out important work to the house, she jumped at the opportunity to be involved.
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The Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) platform has been managed by the government of india and has allowed scientists to collaborate at a distance, the search for molecules that could be turned into useful medicines.

Dr Chaudhuri found she could work from home at times that suits you and your child.

“I met many different people [virtually]. I remember a girl who was somewhere very remote. But it was possible to work with her, because I spoke to her through Skype. We have never met or visited face-to-face,” says Dr. Chaudhuri.

There are many other open source platforms in the scientific community, each with their own specialization, from the genomic analysis for research on cancer, and many women across India and other emerging economies are finding them very liberating.

After the government-run platform closed in 2016, Dr Chaudhuri and his colleagues, has begun working for another organization, the Open Source Pharma Foundation (OSPF), a joint venture between pharmaceutical industry professionals and academics.

It is dedicated to the discovery of affordable medicines by enabling remote collaboration around the world.

Ayisha Safeeda

Ayisha Safeeda, Kuttichira, in the southern state of Kerala, it is from a traditional Muslim family and lives in a remote area. But she was able to pursue his Master’s degree through the open source platform.

“Even if I feed my child are able to read research articles, or I can make it work on my laptop,” he says. “So women who have high potential, but are buried within the family should come next.”

The work of these women in the virtual laboratory involves whittling down the choice of potential molecules that could eventually be turned into drugs to combat diseases, such as tuberculosis.

Dr Chaudhuri has been developing software for OSPF, to help scientists of other disciplines, such as biology, physics, cooperate with the platform.

Rakhila Pradeep, another virtual researcher from Tamil Nadu, says that she has always loved research, but it is found in the impossibility to reach the research centers.

“The daily commuting to far-flung universities from our rural village is a cumbersome trip and not very practical for us,” he says. “We were able to leave our children and aged members of the family for days and days.”

Rakhila Pradeep

Dr UC Jaleel, an expert in cheminformatics, and computational biology, and has managed many projects carried out by these skilled workers at home. He believes that they are a huge untapped source of expertise.

Recalling his college days, women students usually outnumbered – and exceeded – their male contemporaries, ” he says. But then they disappear.

He analysed the statistics in a district of Kerala, where he lives and the results were “surprising,” he says.

“These women were all very polite, but most of them ended up as housewives after getting married.”

Dr Jaleel is a strong supporter OSPF crowd sourcing model, in particular if it leads to fewer medicines for the poorest families.

“The common goal is to reduce the time and cost of drug discovery, connect the disconnected and to mobilize the neglected human potential for humanitarian purposes,” he says.More Technology of Business

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Dr Chaudhuri is in agreement, saying: “Things progress further. Rather than make everyone gather at one place such as an office, we try to give you other opportunities.

“You might think of night or you might think that in the morning. You may think that every time you want to. We are able to get the answer and we will go forward.”

Els Torreele, the director executive of the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres’ access campaign, believes crowd sourcing can have an important role to play, affordable, drug discovery.

“Open source research collaborations are an important and timely strategy in advance and possibly accelerate innovation in the medical field,” she says, “even in the field of neglected diseases, where the sharing of knowledge is even more important than in other fields.”

OSPF is still in its early stages, however, and is not without its challenges – poor internet connectivity in many rural areas.

Funding is another concern, although it has received seed funding from the Indian foundation Tata Trust.

Much of the work has been done through different servers of the university, and social media.

But Dr. Chaudhuri, who not only has a Phd, but now is an assistant professor, says she and her students plan to work on OSPF for help to expand.

“Dream for us Indian girls is forbidden, if we do not have this type of opportunity,” he says. “We should own our own survival and our dream.”Follow the Technology and Business editor, Matthew Wall, on Twitter and Facebook
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