THE National Institute of Immunology (NII) is an autonomous institution supported by the Department of Biotechnology, with the mandate "to undertake, aid, promote, guide and coordinate research of a high calibre in basic and applied immunology". The NII's primary responsibility is to help create the scientific base for innovations of relevance for the development of the nation. Such a mandate necessitates a wide range of activities - from fundamental research, through leads of potential utility, to educational and collegial programmes. Responding to the altered realities of the policy of globalisation, the NII adopted, under the guidance of its Scientific Advisory Committee, a long-term strategy in 1992 for the implementation of an annually reviewed flexible policy integrating all these activities.
Four broad programmes cover its current thrust areas: infection and immunity, molecular design, gene regulation, and reproduction and development. Over the past decade, the quality of the NII's institutional research output has shown spectacular improvement. The frequency of papers published in the top 200 of the world's scientific journals, which are considered benchmarks for research quality, has gone up from around 2 per cent of the annually published papers in 1991 to around35 per cent currently. Notable fundamental discoveries during the past five years include: new clues to AIDS pathogenesis from studies on human and simian chemokine receptor gene polymorphisms, decipherment of novel aspects of the structural basis of antibody responses and molecular mimicry, insights into the break in immune tolerance in vivo and into the signal transduction pathways controlling memory commitment of T and B lymphocytes, the discovery of a haemoglobin receptor system and of a distinct death pathway in Leishmania, and new molecular interactions that allow bacteria such as Salmonella to survive in host cells.
The NII's strategic plan has also succeeded in generating an ambience conducive to scientific competitiveness and competence.
In a continuing effort to contribute to the improvement of research in modern biology, the NII provides advanced training in the form of a doctoral programme, in affiliation with the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Every year, 20-25 students are enrolled through a national competitive entrance process, for which about 1,000 students
A 10-fold increase in the number of the NII inventions getting international patents during the last decade also indicate the cutting-edge nature of the institute's research programmes. During the past five years, of the 24 international patents filed, 12 have already been granted.
Among the NII's significant technological leads during the recent years, the immunotherapeutic adjunct for leprosy, a new candidate vaccine for JEV, diagnostic assay systems and plant-based products for potential therapeutic use in diseases ranging from septic shock to allergy have been notable. The success of the NII's technology-nurturing strategy is evident from the fact that over a dozen technology transfer memoranda of understanding have been signed with national pharmaceutical industries.