Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Portofino at Lavasa

Happiness is like the common cold — it’s catching!
-Anonymous

 

Portofino (Ligurian: Portofin) is a small Italian fishing village, comune and tourist resort located in the province of Genoa on the Italian Riviera. The town crowded round its small harbour is considered to be among the most beautiful Mediterranean ports. The residents of Portofin would never in their wildest dreams imagine a sister-town in this part of the world and what -a-sister!!! Lavasa is located at an altitude of 2000-3000 feet above sea level, with state-of-the-art roads, robust infrastructure and a salubrious climate all year round. It is the largest Hill Station to be planned and developed using the Geographical Information System (GIS).Through GIS, accurate information will be provided to its facility managers anywhere in the world regarding the status of the Hill Station. At Lavasa, utmost care is taken to provide world-class amenities for its citizens. A well laid out Hill Station with facilities on par with the world, Lavasa uses the best of technology to preserve the ecosystem, yet having all the modern amenities. State-of-the-art roads, Convention Center, health and wellness center, international standard golf course coupled with landscaped gardens and parks are just some of the amenities which we will enjoy at Lavasa. Based on the principles of New Urbanism, Lavasa is free India’s largest Hill Station. Lakeside promenade with open air cafés, town hall for cultural activities, world-class educational institutions which will cater to all communities etc are well planned out according to its award winning Master Plan. A far escape from the noise and chaos of the big cities, Lavasa is a complete world in itself. The lakeside homes enveloped inside the natural surroundings of the mountains are replete with all the modern amenities. Workplace cocooned in the pristine valley, yet connected globally gives people an opportunity to explore a whole new work culture. A hub for world-class educational institutions, hospitality and training centers, it’s an arena for the mind where learning is a way of life. A refreshing climate with vast open spaces provides innumerable recreation and leisure activities like golf, trekking, rappelling…to satiate the adventurer in you. Nature trails have been mapped with GPS and points of interest are described. A significant contribution has been made towards trail guides highlighting the rich diversity of flora and fauna at Lavasa.The canvas is huge; the picture is detailed to perfection. Nestled comfortably in the heart of Mose valley, homes at Lavasa are inspired by the water confluence. The unique topography of the valley with its serene lake is one of the most influencing factors in the design of homes at Dasve. The Master Plan of Dasve has won an international award for its design and adaptability. Lakeside apartments and spacious villas embracing the valley are influenced by the Goan and Mediterranean architecture. The lakeside promenade is dotted with elegant cafés and restaurants where residents of Lavasa can enjoy urban lifestyle close to nature. Already the first couple of stores on the promenade are functional & a multicuisine fusion restaurant should be functional before Diwali. I seem to be possesed by this state of happiness when I get past the Lavasa Dwaar or the town gate. I thought it was only me, but I have taken enough blind tests of friends and family and let me assure you that happiness at Lavasa is contagious. 

Today, let me not talk about my feelings. This blog will be on the technical stuff I picked up at the Lavasa introductory lecture & their brochure stuff! The pictures are exclusively mine, though! The Portofino area in the first phase(Dasve phase) of the HCC master plan should be completely ready and populated by late 2010. Setting new benchmarks in construction, planning and service delivery Lavasa offers its residents a level of town infrastructure hitherto, unknown in India. The high quality roads to Lavasa would provide total connectivity to its residents and visitors. Lavasa is approached by various routes. World-class road from the Chandni Chowk (Pune) to Lavasa makes traveling speedy and comfortable. At Lavasa, water is supplied from the lake to a Water Treatment Plant which is designed to meet all the current international health standards. This ultra modern Water Treatment Plant is built in Dasve to cater the need of potable water. The water supply system that meets the European health standards, provides world-class quality and purity of water. An advanced Sewage Treatment System has been setup at Lavasa. The Central Sewage Treatment Plant is based on extended aeration process with tertiary treatment so as to achieve the best quality of treated water. Building on the network of fibre optic cables, infrastructure exists today to provide the highest levels of bandwidth across voice, data and or video requirements. Coupled with the citywide GIS system, the system is designed to maintain Lavasa’s technology leadership position, while providing the wow factor to technophiles and techno-phobic alike. Ensuring continued harmony with nature, numerous technologies including biomethanation, pyrolysis, controlled aerobic composting, sanitary landfills and pellatisation have been employed to mitigate the impact on the environment. The entire area of Dasve is covered by a natural drainage network of shallow and deep-water streams and channels. The natural runoff from the hills has been enhanced with a well-developed storm water system. To retain the flow of natural water, culverts of adequate sizes are provided at every crossing of road and stream so that the natural drainage of the area is unchanged.

The Dasve Lake which is designed to provide sporting and recreational facilities is enhanced by a 2.4 kms promenade which once completed, will form part of the retail and entertainment hub at Lavasa. With arbours, pedestrian bridges, shopping enclaves and dining areas, this will be the heart of Dasve. Imagine a home nestled in a picturesque valley, where the tranquil old world blends seamlessly with the cosmopolitan way of life. Lavasa offers a vibrant, self-contained world which is part of 25,000 hectares of land declared as Hill Station with an extensive Master Plan covering one third that area. The rest of the region is left untouched to preserve the natural beauty. Envisioned as a complete Hill Station offering a balanced life in harmony with nature, Lavasa is an aspirational destination for lifestyle seekers. Based on the principles of New Urbanism, the Master Plan of Lavasa has been developed by internationally renowned design consultant HOK, USA.

The philosophy behind housing at Lavasa is to create comfortable homes for people using the best of technology, for an elegant lifestyle. Lavasa is the sure-fire recipe for happiness- this coming from a doctor-believe me!

How simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. . ….All that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.
– Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

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Placenta Previa after ART?

Researchers at St Olav’s University Hospital in Trondheim, Norway, have discovered a link between assisted reproduction and an increased risk of placenta previa – a dangerous complication of pregnancy where the placenta covers all or part of the cervix. The condition normally affects around three in 1000 births, but with a single IVF or ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) conception the risk raises to 16 in 1000. The researchers also examined women who had one pregnancy conceived naturally and one conceived using assisted reproduction (ART), in this case the risk rose from around seven in 1000 for two natural conceptions to 20 in 1000 for one ART and one natural; it did not make a difference which pregnancy was through assisted reproduction. This helps to rule out the possibility that there was some maternal factor in the single ART pregnancies which could cloud the findings.
The study, published in Human Reproduction, looked at more than 845,000 cases between 1988 and 2002, and was designed to correct for factors such as maternal age. The underlying reasons for the increased risk are not clear although the team postulate that the position in which the embryos are placed into the womb in ART may be a factor. There is research that suggests conception rates are higher when the embryo is inserted lower down in the uterus – this is also thought to reduce the risk of ectopic pregnancy. The team are now calling on fertility clinics to record this extra data. Dr Liv Bente Romundstad, leader of the study, said ‘we now routinely do this, but we need other centres worldwide to do this as well’. She added: ‘Although the risk of placenta previa is considerably higher with ART it is still quite rare, which means it will probably take several thousand pregnancies to get sufficient data to be able to make any definite recommendations about clinical practice’.
In the paper the researchers suggest that assisted reproduction techniques may induce uterine contractions after stimulation of the cervix, this may then lead to more embryos implanting low-down. If the placenta covers the whole of the cervix then the baby must be delivered by caesarean section. There is also an increased risk of bleeding or hemorrhage as the placenta is stretched during the final stages of pregnancy. 
Dr Romundstad said that ‘regardless of whether it was the first or second pregnancy that was conceived through assisted reproductive technology, we found a nearly threefold higher risk of placenta previa’, adding that ‘this suggests a substantial proportion of the extra risk may be attributable directly to factors relating to the reproduction technology’. In the light of the findings, Dr Mark Hamilton, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said that ‘patients who are considering IVF treatment should discuss concerns with their gynecologist in advance of treatment and those who are pregnant might want to discuss this with their obstetrician’.

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Glow-in-the-dark Cats can help with Gene Therapy

Last week South Korean scientists reported that they had successfully cloned cats whose genes had been altered so that they ‘glow-in-the-dark’ under UV light. It is hoped that the ability to alter genes in this way may help scientists discover how to make more complicated gene changes, allowing them to artificially create animals with human genetic diseases for carrying out research into new treatments or cures. The discovery, made by researchers at Gyeongsang National University, is significant because – with a duo of glow-in-the-dark cats as living proof – it marks the first time that scientists have successfully altered the genetic code of cloned cats. ‘This technology can be applied to cloned animals suffering from the same diseases as humans’, Kong Il-keun, who led the research, told AFP. ‘It will also help develop stem cell treatments’, he said, noting that cats have some 250 kinds of genetic diseases that affect humans, too. The technology can also help clone endangered animals like tigers, leopards and wildcats, Kong said.
The three cats – all Turkish Angoras – were created by taking skin cells from donor female cats and using a harmless virus to insert the gene for ‘Red Fluorescent Protein’ (RFP) into the nucleus of each cell, thereby altering its genetic code. The nuclei of the donor female’s egg cells were then removed and replaced with the gene-altered nuclei of the skin cells, to
create a cloned embryo.
To find out if they had been successful in their attempt at creating gene-altered embryos, the researchers implanted the cloned embryos back into the donor females to show that the cloned kittens did indeed glow-in-the-dark, indicating that they expressed RFP in their skin. The three cats were reportedly born by Caesarean section in January and February of this year. Although one was a stillbirth, the scientists claim that it too had expressed the RFP protein throughout its body, indicating that their methods had worked in all three cats. The scientists hope that the ability to create animals that mimic human diseases can speed up efforts to find treatment and drugs by allowing scientists to study animals and conduct experiments that are not possible with human patients. With the current price tag of tens of thousands of dollars to clone a single cat, glow-in-the-dark pets are unlikely to become a commercial venture in the near future.The discovery was announced last week in a press release by the government managed Korea.net news service, however peer reviewed papers and replications of the same experiment will be eagerly awaited to prove the validity of these results.

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LaVaSa – A Walk In The Clouds

I read a poster about Lavasa sometime in the past which read:”Enter a world of extraordinary scale & reach”. Welcome to Lavasa, an idea so colossal, so visionary & fantabulous that I am convinced this will be a feather-in-the-cap of free India. I met Mr Nathan Andrews at an RCI dinner a month ago & upon exchanging visiting cards, we started talking about free India’s largest hill-station. He invited me to visit Lavasa; it took me more than a month to take up his offer & drive down 190 Kms last weekend on a typical Mumbai Monsoon Weekend – the best time to visit the Western Ghats. I have been to almost all the “known” weekend retreats around Mumbai including Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Matheran, Lonavla, Khandala & almost all the beach resorts within driving distance from Mumbai.I was not prepared for what I saw & felt after driving into the Mose Valley near Pune.

Situated in the sprawling lap of nature, Lavasa is “A Walk In The Clouds”- a beautiful world of peace & calm. It offers tranquil surroundings and its only guest-house presently is called “Ekaant” (Sanskrit for Solitude). Everything about this hillstation is very contemporary, yet truly timeless.Lavasa is a dynamic swirl of opposites. One is far far away from the madding crowd, yet close to the bustling metropolis of Pune (Only 35 Kms)… side by side with nature, but right in the midst of technology – We had wireless broadband at Ekaant (I could not believe it and had not carried by notebook with my logical thought-process!). At Lavasa, one is caught up in the lively spirit of enterprise, but soothed by the gentle hand of spirituality. International in execution and bursting with possibilities!

At 3000 feet above sea level, Lavasa offers a vibrant self-contained world encircling 25,000 acres of lakes and hills with a concept design that seamlessly evolves living spaces around a central water body.Let me tell you what impressed us the most- 40 Kms of a two lane motor-way from Chandni Chowk to Ekaant – this road can put the best roads in Switzerland or North America to shame. This road was laid down by the parent company that is backing the Lavasa project – HCC or Hindustan Construction Company three years ago!!! There is not a single pot-hole or even a small 2 inch efect in the road after three Monsoons in the Western Ghats!!! Roads in Mumbai -the financial capital of India do not last one month & are likened to craters on the moon within a few days of being inaugurated. It was a pleasure to drive on this ‘Made-in-India” by Indians motor-way but even this feel-good feeling was superceded by the “Drive In The Clouds” that followed when I almost reached the summit after a lush-green drive through the Maharashtra countryside. The clouds walked into our car, into our hair & into our Lungs – This was the best pollution free experience of my life in India!!!!

From the main entry-gate, it is a 6 Km drive with waterfalls all around to Ekaant, their guest-house (now open to the public) which is at one of the highest points of Lavasa! Ekaant is modern architecture at its best with two storeyed twin glass-walled buildings made of stone with balconies that overlook the Mose Valley (see pictures!). You open the sliding doors of the rooms and again – The Clouds walk in!!!! Yes, Folks… I am writing like an excited child, but Lavasa did make me feel like a child. (The Lavasa Logo has the concept of man breaking away from the bonds of earth by becoming airborne, is based on the liberating idea of transformation. Transformation that frees the soul from within, promoting self-discovery for a fuller, richer life. So one can soar, and have more time for the self and family…. see http://www.lavasa.com).

From our balcony, we could get a bird’s eye view of the development going on by the lakeside – The ITC Fortune is almost ready and due to open this September, the Novotel & Pullman with its Convention Center will be ready by 2010.The entire hill station has been imaginatively laid out along the valley’s water confluences to promote elegant lakeside living. Dasve, the first of the town centers (see photos) will offer a choice of elegant housing, from Portofino-inspired lakeside apartments (which I personally did not quite like – too tiny for my liking with tinier windows) to a multiple array of villas in Goan-Mediterranean design, providing a unique standard for living in India.

It was aound 7pm when we checked in at Ekaant – took us all of 4 hours from Mumbai. We had taken the journey non-stop & were hungry- courteous room-dining staff got us hot pakoras & Masala Chai. Close your eyes and imagine the aroma of Onion Bhajias, Masala Chai & Rain Clouds flooding your nostrils – believe me, this is Nirvana:)

Dish-TV with Sharukh Khan broke the solitude and I watched some cricket being played at Dacca. 8.30pm, we were hungry again:), and marched down with our umbrellas to the multi-cuisine restaurant on the ground level. A sumptuous multi-country buffet with chilled Fosters beer rounded off the evening & facilitated a slow release of pent-up endorphins. There was just the sound of rain on the glass windows all through the night. For someone like me who likes water, this was the most beautiful way to go to sleep with nature.

A late Sunday morning rising and a courteous call from the reception at 9.15am saying the breakfast closes at 9.30am – for all of us who usually have no breakfast in Mumbai, we were surprised at our own gastric wants. We rushed down to have a nice hot Indian breakfast with Fresh watermelon juice & mouth-watering Upma! Then came the walks & discovery that bamboo is native to the Mose valley (see photos). Sunday morning saw a whole lot of tourists who had driven up from Pune for Lunch to Ekaant. It was a pleasure to meet up with the friendly team behind LaVaSa including Mr Krishna Pillai & Mr Himanshu Saxena. Our original plan of driving down before Lunch to Mumbai was shot down by the Lavasa staff who insisted we try their Sunday Lunch Buffet. Food was wonderful – I liked the amazing Cottage Cheese & Pokchoy salad(Must ask the chef where did he get the Pokchoy leaves from?). Hats off to the Executive Chef!

On our way back home, we all unanimously thought we were going back home from a fairy-tale world. I remembered the Sunday morning presentation on Lavasa by Shalini-one of the customer care executives. “Lavasa indeed is setting a new paradigm for India in urban and infrastructure planning. Central to the project are robust systems managed by professional service providers. High speed internet, comprehensive landline & mobile phone services and first-class roads will ensure that one is always connected.An artificial dam (see photo) will create a reservoir – more than sufficient to meet the demand. In addition, Lavasa provides state-of-the-art water sewage treatment plants and uninterrupted power supply to its resients. with the support of effective e-governance systems, the Hill Station is facilitating the all-round growth of the region”

Lavasa’s infrastructure will also help develop the surrounding areas and provide opportunities to the locals of the region. A commitment to ensuring that everyone in Lavasa lives life on their own terms. Once again, I was proud to be an Indian, proud that I did not migrate to the USA after my MBBS, proud that our children will live in a a new India being moulded by a few visionary Indians. I am convinced that India is the future of civilization. I hope to contribute part of my being & knowledge in some form to LaVaSa …Will write more about this magical Hill-Station later… Jai Hind! Jai Maharashtra!

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Human egg makes accidental debut on camera

A doctor about to perform a partial hysterectomy on a patient has inadvertently caught the moment of ovulation on camera. The pictures have been published in the New Scientist magazine, and will also be reproduced in Fertility and Sterility.
Observing ovulation in humans is very difficult, and previous images have been very fuzzy.  Jacques Donnez, of the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, observed the process, and commented, ‘the release of the oocyte from the ovary is a crucial event in human reproduction’.
The pictures have changed the perception of human ovulation, which was thought to be an explosive affair, whereas, in reality, the process takes about 15 minutes. The follicle, a fluid-filled sac on the surface of the ovary, contains the egg. Prior to the egg’s release, enzymes are released that break down the tissue in the follicle, causing a red protrusion to appear. A hole becomes visible in the protrusion out of which an egg is released. The egg then moves to the fallopian tube, which transports it to the uterus. When the egg is released it is only about the size of a full stop.
There are no immediate scientific findings resulting from the pictures, but they do give a greater insight into the ovulation process. Professor Alan McNeilly, of the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Unit, said ‘it really is a pivotal moment in the whole process, the beginnings of life in a way’.

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Stem-Cell Tourism condemned

The increasing problem of ‘stem-cell tourism’ – patients travelling to developing countries seeking costly and unproven stem cell treatments – have prompted leading experts to join in an international effort to establish standards for the development of stem cell treatments. The 30-member committee, comprised of scientists and ethicists from 13 nations, was to release a draft guide at the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) annual meeting in Philadelphia last week but discussions have delayed it. They now hope to have a draft ready in one month, said George Daley, president of the ISSCR, which created the task-force committee. The committee will also collaborate with patient groups to publish a shorter document of frequently asked questions to help explain the guidelines and assist individuals to evaluate the merits of advertised therapies.
The therapeutic benefit of stem cells – cells which can regenerate damaged tissue and organs – are still many years away. Daley told a news conference that he is particularly concerned that stem cell science in its infancy is ‘fertile ground for exploitation’ because so little is yet understood but the therapeutic potential is so great and ‘patients who are desperate will misunderstand the amount of progress in the field’ and become vulnerable to ‘snake oil’ ‘medical fraud’. ‘We need to be strong in condemning this kind of medical tourism’, agreed Olle Lindvall, committee co-chair and neurologist at the University of Lund in Sweden.
The guidelines will provide criteria for the characterisation and production of stem cells eventually intended for human transplantation as well as the level of evidence that should be required through lab and animal studies before conducting human clinical trials. While the guidelines are not legally binding, the members hope they will serve as regulatory guideposts for countries to translate into laws that protect patients from being swindled or harmed.
The only proven stem cell therapies are for blood disorders, certain cancers and rare immune deficiencies. Yet, a proliferation of internet websites offer costly stem-cell nostrums as cure-alls for conditions ranging from Parkinson’s disease, stroke and paralysis to anti-ageing treatments available in countries including China, Thailand and Costa Rica which Daley dismisses as ‘snake oil’. None of these therapies are scientifically proven to be safe and effective, according to Lindvall.
The numbers of individuals travelling for stem cell treatment is unknown but a team led by Timothy Caulfield at the University of Alberta ‘s Health Law Institute in Canada, surveyed 32 websites offering treatments – identified from the media and Google searches – and found that only one site described the procedure as experimental and 26 sites advertised it as being routine. Only four websites referred to peer-reviewed studies. Additionally, the treatments are expensive – 13 sites detailed prices and the average cost for a course of treatment is over INR 360,000 but if combined with cosmetic and lifestyle procedures offered then the figure increases to roughly INR 10,80,000. Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and co-chair of the committee agrees that a ‘strong statement’ is required and the wording of the draft in progress reflects this: ‘The ISSCR condemns the administration of stem cells or their direct derivatives to… patients as unproven medical innovation outside of a clinical trial, particularly when patients in these circumstances are charged for advertised medical services’. It is questionable whether these guidelines will really deter desperate individuals. Many advocacy groups offer patient guidelines and most countries, developing or otherwise, already have regulations for allowing research to enter clinical trials (albeit with varied levels of enforcement). However, most of these rules are non-specific and were created before stem cell treatments entered the limelight.

 

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You Are What Your Mother Eats

Women who eat cereal for breakfast have an increased chance of having sons instead of daughters, a British study has found. Research by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford have uncovered strong links between higher energy intake among mothers around the time of conception and the birth of boys. “The consumption of breakfast cereals was also strongly associated with having male infants,” the study said.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences journal, focused on 740 first-time mothers in the UK who did not know the gender of their unborn baby. The women were asked to provide records of their eating habits before and during the early stages of pregnancy. They were then split into three groups according to the number of calories consumed per day around the time they conceived.

Of the women in the group with the highest energy intake at conception, 56 per cent had sons, compared with 45 per cent in the group with the lowest calorie intake. As well as consuming more calories, women who had sons were more likely to have eaten a higher quantity and wider range of nutrients, including potassium, calcium and vitamins C, E and B12. The study’s lead author, Fiona Mathews of the University of Exeter’s School of Biosciences, said the findings could shed light on modern eating habits and birth statistics. “This research may help to explain why in developed countries, where many young women choose to have low calorie diets, the proportion of boys born is falling,” Dr Mathews said.

While sex is genetically determined by fathers, the study indicated mothers appear able to favour the development of one sex of infant over another. While the mechanism is not yet understood, IVF research shows high levels of glucose encourage the growth and development of male embryos while inhibiting female embryos. Dr Mathews said there were implications for recent debates on whether to regulate so-called gender clinics that allow parents to select the sex of offspring, by manipulating sperm, for non-medical reasons. “Here we have evidence of a natural mechanism that means that women appear to be already controlling the sex of their offspring by their diet,” she said. In animal studies, scientists have already established that more sons are produced when a mother has plentiful resources or is high ranking. “Potentially, males of most species can father more offspring than females, but this can be strongly influenced by the size or social status of the male, with poor quality males failing to breed at all,” Dr Mathews said.

“Females, on the other hand, reproduce more consistently. “If a mother has plentiful resources, then it can make sense to invest in producing a son because he is likely to produce more grandchildren than would a daughter. “However, in leaner times having a daughter is a safer bet.”

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