Monday, November 23, 2009

DRDO developing herbal shield for N-war

In the backdrop of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons being a major factor in the geo-political security environment, the DRDO is developing herbal protective measures to guard the fallout of the use of such weapons.

This is the first such project of its kind in the world where extracts from herbal plants are being used to produce agents to protect humans against radioactivity. Besides military applications, the spin-off of this project will also have spin-offs in civilian sectors like nuclear medicine and radiology.

“We are in advance stages of clinical trials of these products,” Dr W Selvamurthy, Chief Controller, DRDO, said here on Friday. “Clinical trials are expected to take about a year after which the products will be sent to the Drug Controller of India for ratification,” he added.

Dr Selvamurthy said at present there was only one chemical agent available to combat radioactivity, but that was very toxic and hence dangerous to handle. The herbal products would counter this drawback. Extracts of two plants, podophylum hexandrum and the well-known seabuckthorn, are being used in the project being undertaken by three different DRDO laboratories at Leh, Delhi and Gwalior.

The plants grow only in high altitude areas above 9000 feet and are native only to the Himalayas. Efforts are on to cultivate the plants in the DRDO laboratories to ascertain their characteristics and their ability to adapt to other geographical conditions for mass-scale production, Dr Selvamurthy said.

Some other herbal products developed by the DRDO for use by the armed forces include UV protection agents, high energy food items and insect repellants. The DRDO chief said so far NBC warfare and protection items worth about Rs 800 crore developed by the DRDO and manufactured by the industry had been supplied to the armed forces.

These include sensors, detection systems, individual and collective protection systems and medical equipment.

The DRDO has recently supplied about 25 underground shelters for protection of troops in an NBC environment. Each shelter can sustain about 30 men for four days.

Orders for another 100 such shelters have been received. Under the 11th Five-Year Plan, major research and development work is being undertaken in application of nanotechnology and lasers for bio-sensors and stand-off NBC detection systems. This includes “smart” protective clothing that automatically decontaminates itself.

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