Research Digest

Lab notes: Bhopal residents exposed to methyl isocyanate in 1984 continue to have DNA damage

Fresh tests on people who were exposed to the chemical showed that the frequency of genetic aberrations has increased with time.

Victims of Bhopal gas tragedy continue to suffer damage in their DNA, a new study has revealed.

Methyl isocyanate, which released from the Union Carbide plant in December 1984, is known to damage human DNA by interacting with proteins. Such damage was recorded in studies done by the Indian Council of Medical Research in years following the gas leak.

Now a team of scientists from MGM New Bombay Hospital has performed fresh tests on people who were exposed to MIC and found that the damage continues. Researchers used the same categorization that was used by Indian Council of Medical Research – people were grouped as severely exposed, moderately exposed or unexposed. Blood samples of 156 persons were collected for this study. Of this, 130 samples gave readable data and anomalies detected were classified, and results compared with Indian Council of Medical Research screening performed between 1985-1988.

The study has shown two trends. Even though people who were severely exposed to the gas now possess fewer abnormal cells, the frequency of aberrations within such cells has increased with time. Another finding was increase in chromosomal aberrations even in people who were not exposed or moderately exposed to the gas.

The researchers explain it could be due to several reasons. “A number of confounders, including lifestyle, environment, nutritional factors, drinking water, occupational exposures, and inherent genetic conditions interact. Additionally, continuous soil contamination by chemical wastes dumped in the Union Carbide India limited site might have augmented the genetic changes through interaction with other biologic and abiologic factors,” the study says.

Dr Hit Kishore Goswami, former founder chairman of Department of Genetics at Bhopal University (now Barkatullah University) who was involved in Bhopal studies, commented that “many follow up studies have been performed by individual groups, each differing slightly in their approach. This study also does the same. It manages to expose the complications of chemical contact with better techniques”.

However, Dr V Ramana Dhara, adjunct clinical professor at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory, commented that “given problems with the study design and a lack of clear exposure-response, it does little to advance the knowledge of methyl isocyanate toxicity.”

The study was conducted by Bani B Ganguly and Shaouvik Mandal from the MGM Centre for Genetic Research and Diagnosis, MGM New Bombay Hospital. It has been published recently in journal Mutation Research-Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis.

This article was first published by India Science Wire.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.