The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi, the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, is one of the oldest medical research bodies in the world.
The ICMR has always attempted to address itself to the growing demands of scientific advances in biomedical research on the one hand, and to the need of finding practical solutions to the health problems of the country, on the other. The ICMR has come a long way from the days when it was known as the IRFA, but the Council is conscious of the fact that it still has miles to go in pursuit of scientific achievements as well as health targets.
-First meeting of the Governing Body of the Indian Research Fund Association (IRFA) was held on November 15, 1911 (at the Plague Laboratory, Bombay, under the Chairmanship of Sir Harcourt Butler).
-Articles of the Association were considered and a Scientific Advisory Board was constituted at the same meeting
-At the 2nd meeting of the Governing Body, a historic decision was taken to start a journal for Indian Medical research.
-The Indian Journal of Medical Research was started in 1913-14 (under the authority of the Director-General, Indian Medical Services).
-The 'Beri-Beri Enquiry' was started at Coonoor (under the guidance of Sir Robert McCarrison).
-'Quinine and Malaria Enquiry' was initiated (under Major Sinton at Kasauli).
-Kala-azar Ancillary Enquiry was started (with Major Knowles and Dr. Napier).
-Research on Indigenous Drugs was initiated (under Col. R.N. Chopra at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine, Calcutta).
-The first All India Conference of Medical Research Workers was convened at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Calcutta. (This became an annual event subsequently).
-Research on Nutritional diseases was started at Coonoor (by Col. McCarrison under 'Deficiency Diseases Enquiry').
-IRFA received the first munificient public contribution of Rs.1 lakh from the Maharaja of Parlakimedi.
-Fructification of the plans of Lt.Col. S.R. Christophers for creation of a Central Malaria Organization as "Malaria Survey of India" (by absorbing the Central Malaria Bureau at Kasauli and the Enquiries on Quinine and Malaria and Indian Culicidae).
-An Experimental Malaria Station was set up at Karnal as a part of Malaria Survey of India.
-The 'Deficiency Diseases Enquiry' was converted into a Centre of Nutrition Research (with Col. McCarrison as its first Director).
-The Publication of "Records of Malaria Survey of India" was started.
-The Governing Body of IRFA completed the task of setting up the Institute of Hygiene and Public Health at Calcutta.
-A course of training in Nutrition was started at the Nutrition Research Laboratories at Coonoor.
-"The Nutritive Value of Indian Foods and Planning of Satisfactory Diets" was prepared (which has now been reprinted repeatedly).
-IRFA was registered as a local body not administered by the Government on March 22, 1938 under the Government of India Act No. XXI of 1860.
-In tune with the recommendation of the Conference of Far Eastern Countries on Rural Hygiene held in Java in 1937, the Government of India decided that the Nutrition Advisory Committee of the IRFA should also function as the National Nutrition Committee for India.
-The "Malaria Survey of India" was redesignated as the "Malaria Institute of India".
-"The Records of the Malaria Survey of India" was redesignated as the "Journal of the Malaria Institute of India" (which subsequently became the Indian Journal of Malariology in 1947).
-A Research Fellowship Scheme was started by IRFA.
-Transmission cycle of the parasite of Kala-azar was elucidated by Swaminath, Smith, Shortt and Anderson.
-A Clinical Research Advisory Committee was appointed as a first step to enable greater attention being paid to clinical research and the development of research in medical colleges.
-A Clinical Research Unit (the first research unit of IRFA attached to a medical institution) was established at the Indian Cancer Research Centre, Bombay.
-Dr. C.G. Pandit was appointed as the first full time secretary of IRFA in July 1948.
-IRFA was redesignated as the Indian Council of Medical Research (with Dr. C.G. Pandit as its first Director).
The ICMR is funded by the Government of India through the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
The Council's research priorities coincide with the National health priorities such as control and management of communicable diseases, fertility control, maternal and child health, control of nutritional disorders, developing alternative strategies for health care delivery, containment within safety limits of environmental and occupational health problems; research on major non-communicable diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, blindness, diabetes and other metabolic and haematological disorders; mental health research and drug research (including traditional remedies). All these efforts are undertaken with a view to reduce the total burden of disease and to promote health and well-being of the population.
The Governing Body of the Council is presided over by the Union Health Minister. It is assisted in scientific and technical matters by a Scientific Advisory Board comprising eminent experts in different biomedical disciplines. The Board, in its turn, is assisted by a series of Scientific Advisory Groups, Scientific Advidsory Committees, Expert Groups, Task Forces, Steering Committees etc. which evaluate and moniter different research activities of the Council (chart).
The Council promotes biomedical research in the country through intramural as well as extramural research. Over the decades, the base of extramural research and also its strategies have been expanded by the Council.
Intramural research is carried out currently through the Council's 32 Research Institutes/Centres/Units. These include:
- 23 mission-oriented national institutes located in different parts of India that address themselves to research on specific areas such as tuberculosis, leprosy, cholera and diarrhoeal diseases, viral diseases including AIDS, malaria, kala-azar, vector control, nutrition, reproduction, immunohaematology, oncology, medical statistics, etc;
- 5 Regional Medical Research Centres that address regional health problems, and also aim to strengthen or generate research capabilities in different geographic areas of the country; and
- 5 Unit/Centres dealing with food & drug toxicology, viral diseases, handling microorganisms of highly infectious nature, prenatal diagnosis for neonatal retardation etc and supply of various animal models and feeds for experimental purposes.
Extramural research is promoted by ICMR through
- Setting up Centres for Advanced Research in different research areas around existing expertise and infrastructure in selected departments of Medical Colleges, Universities and other non-ICMR Research Institutes.
- Task force studies which emphasise a time-bound, goal-oriented approach with clearly defined targets, specific time frames, tbl-standardized and uniform methodologies, and often a multicentric structure.
- Open-ended research on the basis of applications for grants-in-aid received from scientists in non-ICMR Research Institutes, Medical colleges, Universities etc. located in different parts of the country.
In addition to research activities, the ICMR encourages human resource development in biomedical research through
Emeritus Scientist Scheme
For retired medical scientists and teachers, the Council offers the position of Emeritus Scientist to enable them to continue or take up research on specific biomedical topics. The Council also awards prizes to Indian scientists, in recognition of significant contributions to biomedical research. At present, the Council offers 38 awards, of which 11 are meant exclusively for young scientists (below 40 years).
In the context of the changing public health scene, the balancing of research efforts between different competing fields, especially when resources are severely limited, is a typical problem encountered in the management of medical research, particularly in developing countries. Infectious diseases and excessive population growth have continued to constitute the major priorities to be addressed in medical research throughout the past several decades. In addition to tackling these issues, in recent years, research has been intensified progressively on emerging health problems such as Cardiovascular diseases, Metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus), Mental health problems, Neurological disorders, Blindness, Liver diseases, Hearing impairment, Cancer, Drug abuse, Accidents, Disabilities etc.. Research on Traditional Medicine/Herbal Remedies was revived with a disease-oriented approach. Attempts have been made to strengthen and streamline Medical Informatics and Communication to meet the growing demands and needs of the biomedical community. The Council is alert to new diseases and new dimensions of existing diseases, as exemplified by the rapid organization of a network of Surveillance Centres for AIDS in different states of India in 1986.