Getting to the heart of the matter

India, according to some estimates, is the world's capital for heart-related diseases. Fortunately, research scholars like Sadhana Dwivedi of the IITB Monash Research Academy are working hard to rid it of this dubious distinction.

The Academy is a collaboration between India and Australia that endeavours to strengthen scientific relationships between the two nations, and graduate research scholars like Sadhana study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay and Monash University, spending time at both institutions to enrich their research experience.

Fig. 1 : Sir, you are under cardiac arrest!

Sadhana is working under the supervision of Prof V Ramgopal Rao and Prof Gil Garnier on a research project titled 'Low cost affinity biosensor cardiac application'.

In order to comprehend her area of work, let's first understand the term myocardial infarction, more commonly known as heart attack.

To put it simply, explains Sadhana, blockage of the coronary artery leads to a reduction of blood supply to the heart muscles, which then start degenerating due to lack of oxygen, and this eventually leads to a cardiac arrest or heart attack.

"However, what's crucial," she adds, "is that these degenerating muscles release some proteins in the blood, termed as cardiac biomarkers, which are like early warning signals."

The most significant of these biomarkers are Troponin, Myoglobin, Creatine Kinase (CK-MB), and Fatty Acid Binding Protein (FABP). "Unfortunately," says Sadhana, "they are present in very low concentration in the blood (ranging between 0.07ng/ml -170ng/ml). Therefore, it would be of great help if an efficient preconcentrator could be used in diagnostic devices to help detect these biomarkers even in an extremely small sample."

And this is where Sadhana is trying to make a difference.

To distinguish a specific biomarker protein from a mixture of a large variety of proteins, the logical approach is selective preconcentration of that particular biomarker protein. Sadhana reveals that she is focusing on cheap paper-based diagnostics and preconcentration integrated with MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) and NEMS (Nano-Electro-Mechanical Systems) devices.

BioMEMS is an interdisciplinary domain where advances in micro- and nano-scale sciences are used for the development of new technologies for molecular analysis and biomedical research. As the research of nanoscience and technology rises exponentially, new devices are being developed to address current and future needs. Likewise, BioMEMS as a science is aimed at revolutionising treatment and diagnosis of diseases through the development of devices and systems with unprecedented performance characteristics, such as sensitivity, specificity, resolution, throughput and multiplexing. Miniaturisation of these devices is a challenging task, involving microfabrication and surface functionalisation of materials. Apart from miniaturisation, integration of preconcentrator to the detection system is another area of active research.

Sadhana explains that her research focuses on paper-based platform for techniques and approaches used for preconcentration, improvement of the sensing, filtration and stability of the paper-based system.

"The IITB-Monash Research Academy is an exciting chapter in Indian-Australian relations that will see both countries creating binding links. This will enable us to tackle the research challenges that lie ahead and generate some long-lasting high impact outcomes for society," says Prof Murli Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy.

More power to Sadhana and her tribe.

Research scholar: Sadhana Dwivedi, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Paper based platform for preconcentration and sensing of cardiac biomarkers: A low cost approach for cardiac disease diagnostics.

Supervisors: Prof V Ramgopal Rao and Prof Gil Garnier

Contact details: sadhana@ee.iitb.ac.in

This story was written by Mr Krishna Warrier based on inputs from the research student and IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.