Friday, 27 September 2013

Engineer wins Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award for creating synthetic bone

Engineer wins Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award for creating synthetic bone
There is a new bone in contention only it is a synthetic one.

This synthetic bone is the work of Bikramjit Basu, a 40-year-old scientist who studied metallurgy (now called materials science) and is one of the eight recipients of India's very own Nobel Prize for young scientists-the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Awards, 2013.

He has won the award in 'engineering sciences' but his research promises to take care of the common man's health woes. In a country where 50 per cent of the population faces risk of some sort of bone disease, Basu has come up with a lab-grown bone.
Bikramjit Basu is a 40-year-old scientist who studied metallurgy.

That's the way of 21st century science, where cutting-edge research in biosciences is happening through engineers, physicists and chemists. "That's because, we ask different questions and pursue different methods, that biologists do not ask or are not interested in," says Basu, associate professor of materials research center at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

New research in the medical sciences is also marked by a materials rush. Biomaterials, from nature or grown in the lab, are substances that are being 'mashed' with biological systems, supplementing or replacing natural functions. The 50-year-old science has grown so much that the materials are now being used every day in surgical procedures and drug delivery.

"Natural bone consists of collagen and something called hydroxyapatite," says Basu. Collagen is a protein that gives bone its resilience, while hydroxyapatite-the source of bone calcium-provides strength and rigidity. For the last four-five years, Basu and his team-first at IIT-Kanpur and then at IISc-has been working on developing an 'implantable biomaterial' that would regenerate bones. "We needed to create something that would have electrical property, biological compatibility, strength and toughness to resist fractures."

His engineering skills came into play: measuring a material's ability to conduct electric current is essentially an engineer's approach. But the problem in hand was fundamentally biological: "Cells in the body communicate with each other by sending and receiving signals," he adds. Signals, from outside the body or from other cells, are passed on though electrical impulse. In a unique experiment in his lab Basu showed that when electrical current was sent in, his bone implants allowed cells to "crosstalk" and grow.

The science has enormous healthcare implications. It simply means better treatment and healing for bone injuries: it can be fixed onto bones, be shaped to fit voids or chips, be absorbed by the body eventually to re-grow new bones.

Question is: when will it reach the common man? "For lab-grown systems to work in the body, there are many more steps that need to be taken, including clinical trials," he says. For that clinicians and engineers need to work very closely. "But in our country such work rarely takes place. Everybody works in isolation. And scientific research does not get translated into application." This is where the West beats the developing world. During his research at University of Leuven in Belgium as well as University of California, Santa Barbara, US, this is what he saw: "Most top universities have a hospital and a host of research labs work in collaboration with it. The work gets translated seamlessly, from lab bench-side to hospital bedside."

For now, such awards bring visibility to the field and to our world-class researchers. For Basu's father, who could never pursue his academic dreams and worked in the railways to hold his family together in the wake of Partition, this is a dream come true. The nation, however, has to walk many more miles before the synergy of science and clinical application can join hands to reach the common man.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Egg vendor gives free coaching to civil services aspirants in Bihar

'Egg vendor' gives free coaching to civil services aspirants in Bihar


Manoj Kumar Roy, now an Indian Ordnance Factory Service officer, sold eggs, worked as a vegetable vendor and even mopped the floors of an office to earn a living during his struggling days.
He sold eggs, worked as a vegetable vendor and even mopped the floors of an office to earn a living during his struggling days in Delhi. Sheer grit and hard work only helped Manoj Kumar Roy, who hails from Bihar, brave all odds and bag the 870th rank in the coveted central services exam in 2010.

Roy (35) - now an Indian Ordnance Factory Service (IOFS) officer - spends his weekends grooming poor students of his state to help them crack the UPSC exam.

"The service is absolutely free," he said.

Roy travels 110km from Nalanda, where he is posted as an administrative officer at Rajgir Ordnance factory, to Patna every weekend.

"When I cracked the civil services in my fourth attempt, I thought about many youngsters who could not afford the costly coaching," he said. "So I decided to extend my help to them." Roy said he was lucky to get his first posting at Rajgir in his home state. "I was allotted the IOFS on the basis of my rank in the UPSC exam," he said.

Roy started providing free coaching to deserving and poor children soon after he was posted at Rajgir. "Most of my students belong to poor or lower middle class families," he said.

 Manoj Kumar Roy with one of his students, Reshu Krishna, who came 13th in BPSC exam.

Roy's mission is supported by his wife Anupama Kumari, a deputy collector in Patna City. "My wife has qualified the Bihar Public Service Examination," he said. "I asked her to coach and share her experiences with my students. She readily agreed to my request." Most of his successful students owe their success to Roy. Reshu Krishna, who scored the 13th rank in the BPSC examination and qualified for the post of deputy superintendent of police, said she had benefited immensely from Roy's classes.

"Sir (Roy) used to teach us geography and general studies," she said. "His tips were invaluable to all of us." Arun Kumar, who came 390th in the same examination, said Roy inspired him to appear for the BPSC exam. "I came in contact with Roy sir during my college days," he said. "When I failed to qualify in the UPSC examination and the Bihar Police's recruitment test for sub-inspectors, Roy sir motivated me and helped me crack the state civil services examination," Arun said.

As many as 45 students, who were trained by Roy, have qualified the recent combined BPSC exam of three batches.