Research Lab
Deciphering the Human Brain and Mind through the lens of economic, environmental, and social dynamics of the 21st century

The Context

The global trends are changing our brain physiology and our mental health, and we are discovering that changes in our stimulus and social environment have an impact on our brain and mind, much more than we have previously appreciated. They have resulted in the following:

  • The social and cultural consequences of our technology environment are leading to a rapid decline in mental well-being of younger generations.
  • Increasing prevalence of toxins in our food and water disrupt our endocrine systems and lodge in the brain with growing impact to brain health.
  • Diverging access to stimuli arising from economic inequality are causing a rapid divergence in our brain physiology with implications for cognition and brain health.

It is imperative to understand the impact and consequences of our changing economic, environmental and technological changes on the dynamical function of the human brain, particularly in the context of rising mental health concerns and growing inequality.

The world is not equipped to rapidly identify trends, causes and solutions due to lack of data, the slow speed of data dissemination and working in silos. The Sapien Labs Centre for the Human Brain and Mind at Krea University aims to bridge the gap from research to impact, through rapid collection of data,and dissemination of trends and insights to inform policy recommendations and build awareness with key stakeholders.

About Sapien Labs Centre for the Human Brain and Mind

The Sapien Labs Centre for the Human Brain and Mind at Krea University is a collaboration between Sapien Labs and Krea University with an aim to pursue research and learning related to the human brain and mind. It also intends to build a globally distributed infrastructure for large-scale, real-time data acquisition and insights as well as development of interventions and tools that can become scalable products and services embedded in the world to move the needle. 

The Centre will bring together cross-disciplinary faculty, large-scale acquisition of multi-dimensional human physiological data, cutting-edge data workflows, and engagement with the non-profit, start-up and government sectors.  

The collaborative initiative includes data acquisition support from LEAD at Krea University using its infrastructure and collaborating with other partners where necessary for medical/physiological data.

The Mission

The Centre seeks to track and understand the impact of our changing environment on the human brain and its consequences for the individual and society so that it can be managed to mitigate risks and enhance outcomes.

Research for Impact

The collaborative research and data at the Sapien Labs Centre for the Human Brain and Mind at Krea University will enable potential near-term impact in the field of medicine, youth mental health, organisational health, and cognitive health among others. The research will lead to development of:

  • Better diagnostics and treatment pathways for neurological and mental disorders

  • Tools for schools to create an environment that builds the Social Self to prevent poor mental well-being of future generations

  • Products and tools to enable better organisational management of stakeholder mental well-being

  • Interventions and tools to enhance cognitive outcomes of pre-school children in low-income communities, particularly in India and Africa

Initiatives

The Mental Health Million Database

The largest, most comprehensive real-time global database of mental well-being data in the world. 47 of mental well-being + 35 social determinant factors.

Report on the State of Mental Health in India

An annual region and state-specific mental health report on India.

The Human Brain Diversity

Data project of Sapien Labs that measures brain activity on a large scale across the globe using EEG, along with various other measures of life experience, mental and cognitive outcomes and other physiological and metabolic measures.

The Team​

The Sapien Labs Centre for the Human Brain and Mind at Krea University is built on the ethos of collaboration and breaking silos, of bringing together minds that work towards a common goal led by the spirit of scientific enquiry, and a desire to translate research and data, into impactful interventions and tools that can benefit the future of humankind. The team draws together interested faculty from Krea University.

Director

Dr Shailender Swaminathan

History of Science/Biology

Dr John Mathew

Computational Neuroscience

Dr Shyam Kumar Sudhakar

Psychology

Dr Sabah Siddiqui

Prof Vaishali
Biology

Dr Vaishali Sharma

Computer Science

Dr Pavan Perepu

Biology

Dr Lakshman Varanasi

Director

Dr Shailender Swaminathan

Shailender Swaminathan is an economist with a research focus on healthcare and statistics. He received a Doctorate in Economics from the University of Southern California in 2001, and a Post-Doctorate at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Shailender was previously at Sai University, Chennai, where he was the Dean of the Division of Social Sciences and a Professor of Economics.

Shailender spent a decade as a faculty member in the Department of Health Policy at Brown University working to understand the role of policy and interventions in improving health outcomes of individuals with chronic disease. His research has been published in several leading journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), JAMA-Internal Medicine, JAMA- Health Forum, Health Affairs, and the Journal of Health Economics. One of the papers published in JAMA on the effect of health financing on hospitalization of patients with psychiatric health problems won the Academy Health article of the year award in 2009. Some of his recent work examines the effect of disability transfers to the poor on long-term health outcomes, and the effect of COVID on mortality of patients with chronic diseases. His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and the Veterans Administration. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at Brown University’s Department of Health Policy. Since returning to India in 2015, Shailender worked at the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) where he worked on the largest health insurance experiment to date-the Indian Health Insurance Experiment-in the state of Karnataka, India. The study, conducted from 2013-2019 on a sample of about 10,000 households living in poverty, examined the effects of providing “free” hospital insurance on health care utilization and health outcomes. In the course of this survey and another on childhood immunization, Shailender travelled extensively travel to several states and districts in India where he observed and interacted with households living at or below the poverty line.

Shailender plans to bring this experience in survey design and data collection, as well as his research interests on the effects of poverty on health to bear on understanding the role of societal heterogeneity-in poverty, inequality, and access to technology- on the physiology of the brain, cognition, and mental health. In particular, he is excited about the prospect of working with researchers and scientists from multiple disciplinary backgrounds-including neuroscience, computational biology, data science, psychology, and sociology.

History of Science/Biology

Dr John Mathew

PhD, Harvard University
PhD, Old Dominion University
Divisional Chair, Humanities & Social Sciences
Associate Professor of History of Science, SIAS

An Associate Professor at Krea University, John Mathew concluded a four-year stint in the same capacity at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, in the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2018 before moving to his current position. He has taught previously at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts; and Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. With Bachelor’s, Master’s and M.Phil. degrees in Zoology from the Madras Christian College, Chennai (Madras), Tamil Nadu, he holds an additional Master’s (AM) in Medical Anthropology from Harvard University, and two doctorates, one in Ecological Sciences from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, and the other in the History of Science from Harvard University. His instructional experience includes anthropology, biology, geology, history and the history of science. At Krea, he has co-taught foundational courses in the first year, including ‘Scientific Reasoning’ and ‘Exploring the Social and the Historical’ and is currently involved with co-leading ‘Past, Present and Predicted Environments’ in Environmental Studies, and ‘Life at Different Scales’ in the Biological Sciences, the latter which as a discipline he also co-anchors.

John is in the process of revising a book length manuscript, ‘To Fashion a Fauna for British India’, due for submission to Oxford University Press after reviews. He is also actively researching the plague and influenza epidemics in India in the 1890s and 1918-19 respectively.

John’s interests are fundamentally cross-disciplinary. He retains a deep interest in theatre and music, both of which he brought into conversation with his own research, in the writing and performance of a musical at IISER Pune titled ‘The Sun Was White, The Moon Disobedient’, with the students of the institute in the main. He also founded and directed the institute’s choir there, which he has also done at Krea, helping to helm the December production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ from both a theatrical and choral perspective in 2019.

Computational Neuroscience

Dr Shyam Kumar Sudhakar

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, SIAS

Shyam Kumar Sudhakar is a Neuroscientist with interests and specialisation in the field of Computational Neuroscience. Shyam is interested in studying pathological brain states (Epilepsy, Traumatic Brain Injury) with the aim of identifying promising therapeutics to repair the aberrant brain circuits. Shyam does so by using biologically realistic computational modeling and collaborating with experimental researchers in the field. Shyam’s long-term goal is to study how network activity and oscillations are altered in neurological disorders and develop novel strategies to stop the abnormal functioning in such brain states. Shyam believes that his research work would greatly help to uncover the brain mechanisms of behavior and how those mechanisms become abnormal in neurodegenerative diseases.

Shyam received his PhD from Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium. At Antwerp, he was supported by the prestigious Marie-Curie fellowship for 3 years and subsequently with funds from Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan. During his PhD, he developed a large-scale network model of the granular layer of the cerebellar cortex.

Shyam then went on to pursue post-doctoral training at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, United States. During his postdoctoral training, he focused on computational modeling of neurological disorders (Epilepsy, Traumatic Brain Injury) and modeling of oscillations generated in a brain region called retrosplenial cortex. Prior to joining Krea University, Shyam briefly worked as a post-doctoral researcher at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.

Shyam is an avid traveler and loves exploring new places. In addition to traveling, Shyam spends his free time learning more about financial markets.

Psychology

Dr Sabah Siddiqui

Assistant Professor of Psychology, SIAS

Sabah Siddiqui completed her PhD from the University of Manchester on faith healing practices, where she investigated how medical science and traditional/alternative medicine intersect in mental health service provision. She used methods from critical psychology, ethnography, and social geography. She also explored the place of fiction in social science methodologies through the trope of ghost stories. She was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award by the Faculty of Humanities, University of Manchester twice, in 2016 and 2018. Her work on faith healing has been published in the form of a book, chapters in edited books, and journal articles.

Sabah is a psychodynamic psychotherapist, with a three-year M.Phil. in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy from Ambedkar University Delhi. She brings together psychoanalytic insights from Freud, Lacan, Object Relations, and Group Analysis to inform her work. She co-edited the book Islamic Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Islam, which was nominated for the 2019 Gradiva Award for Best Edited Book. She is currently a member of the editorial boards of Psychoanalysis, Culture, & Society, and the Annual Review of Critical Psychology.

Sabah works on the intersections of sex, gender, and power. She has worked as a research consultant and writer on topics such as gendered violence, domestic and sexual abuse, violence against women and girls with disabilities, and violence against women deemed mad. In 2018, she was one of the editors of the special issue for the Annual Review of Critical Psychology on Sex and Power in the University, which explored the questions of sexual harassment and violence in the university setting.

At present, Sabah is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, and Co-Investigator on a British Academy grant on traditional medicine in Manchester using a community asset mapping methodology. She is co-editing a special issue for the Palgrave Journal of Psychoanalysis, Culture, & Society titled Nationalisms and their Discontents: South Asian Perspectives (to be published in late 2022). She is also contributing to the second edition of A Critical History and Philosophy of Psychology (Cambridge University Press).

Biology

Dr Vaishali Sharma

Visiting Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, SIAS
PhD, University of Florence

Vaishali Sharma has a PhD in Structural Biology from Centre for Magnetic Resonance, University of Florence, Italy, which is one of the largest biophysics laboratories in Europe. Her studies were focused on proteins that are involved in iron metabolism and assimilation in humans. She studied the interaction of these macromolecules with deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and their consequential molecular cascading events.


Vaishali worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the laboratory of Cellular dynamics, Max Plank Institute of Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany and studied the alpha synuclein (ASN) protein, whose accumulation leads to neurodegeneration leading to Parkinson’s disease in humans. This group is a leader in making novel microscopes for studying complicated biological phenomena live. Her research was focused on the interactions of ASN with multiple neuronal proteins involved in cellular trafficking. The molecular events governing packaging and transporting of cellular cargo in and out of cell in rat model system. During her second post-doctoral research at University of Medicine, Gottingen in the Dept of Neurodegeneration, she was part of team involved in testing of proposed potential compounds and their interaction with ASN within cells. Her interdisciplinary research exposure gathered her expertise in cutting edge microscopy, biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology and neurobiology.


Vaishali enjoys Teaching and Learning. She has an aptitude to learn new languages, she speaks Italian, German, Bengali, Punjabi in two dialects, Hindi and Bhojpuri, with varying degree of proficiency. She is an enthusiast in Latin American dance forms and Photography.

Computer Science

Dr Pavan Perepu

Assistant Professor of Computer Science, SIAS

Pavan Kumar Perepu received both MTech and PhD in Computer Science from University of Hyderabad, India. His research areas of interest are Pattern Recognition, Machine Learning, Image Processing, Artificial Intelligence, Information Retrieval, Computer Vision and Algorithms. He has published 10 papers in reputed journals and conference proceedings like Neurocomputing, Elsevier, Parallel Processing Letters, World Scientific, Pattern Analysis and Applications, Springer, IEEE ICDAR, ACM ICVGIP etc. He has six years Post-PhD teaching and research experience at places like IISc Bangalore, IIITDM Kurnool and IIT Jammu.

Biology

Dr Lakshman Varanasi

PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, MS, USA
Assistant Professor of Biological Science, SIAS

Lakshman is deeply invested in research in the detection and management of catastrophic lifestyle diseases such as cancer. His work has included basic and translational cancer research, and has centred on the early diagnosis of cancers of gastrointestinal cancers. Over the course of this work, his interests have evolved to include the gamut of disciplines that constitute precision medicine.

Lakshman is also engaged with industry to provide scientific expertise and depth for the development of biomedical systems, for the delivery and management of healthcare, such as in the use of electronic health information in prediction/ diagnosis (Healthkon). Most recently, he has helped communicate stem-cell research, services, and products to the general public (Transcell Oncologics).

Lakshman holds a Master’s in Life Sciences from Jawaharlal Nehru University (2004) and a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, MS, USA (2010). His interest in health extends into his life in the workplace and outside it, and he in writing, photography, yoga, and cycling.