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Jagriti Sethi: Early-stage researcher in material chemistry, nanomaterials, biosensor technology, and data analysis

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Can you tell me about the industry you’re in and the role you play?

My name is Jagriti and I’m from India. I did my bachelor’s and master’s in nano technology. Then I started my PhD at Plymouth University. I’m working on developing graphene-based biosensors. For detection of blood biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. This PhD is a part of a Marie Curie project called BBDiag (Blood biomarker based diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s disease).

I’ve always been interested in healthcare applications of nano technology. Developing the diagnostic tools that can identify specific biomarkers. These are crucial for the detection of disease in the early stage and the focus of my research. Alzheimer’s disease is usually identified in the later stages, after the massive neuronal damage has already occurred.  At this stage, the symptoms start showing up.

In our project, we identify and detect biomarkers that can diagnose the disease years to months before the actual symptoms start showing up. This will allow us to slow down the disease progression and find a cure, if there is any. We are developing blood-based tools. As a blood test is easier to take and is accessible to larger population.

The abnormal concentrations of certain biomarkers will point towards the disease/ risk of developing disease. This type of test can act as a gatekeeper test for Alzheimer’s disease, and can be used in addition to the existing imaging and CSF sampling tests.

Can you tell us a bit more about electrical biosensors?

It is a device which is used for the detection of presence, or absence of, specific analytes from a biological sample. Changes in the concentration of analyte leads to changes in the electric current. These changes can be plotted to get a characteristic current vs concentration plot. The sensitivity of these biosensors can be improved with the use of nanomaterials. We are using graphene, which is a highly conductive material and provides excellent sensitivity for biosensors.

In case of Alzheimer’s disease; the concentration of relevant biomarkers in blood is quite low. Especially in the early stages. Therefore, high sensitivity is required for biosensors. The sensors are prepared by modifying the graphene surface with antibodies specific to the biomarker of interest. When you put a drop of blood on these sensors, the biosensors can detect as low as pM concentration of the specific biomarker. Therefore, graphene biosensors provide a rapid, cost effective and highly sensitive tool for the blood-based testing of biomarkers.

What do you think is the future for research and the technology that you are using?

I think there will be a lot more research even more so than now. When it comes to Alzheimer’s, early detection, before the massive neuronal damage. This is the key to developing any disease-modifying treatment. And because of its huge socioeconomic burden, it’s important that more research is conducted.

As of now, people are trying to identify non-invasive tools for the detection of Alzheimer’s in the early stages. The detection is complicated by the fact that the disease is accompanied by host of other issues. This makes it difficult to identify one specific bio marker for Alzheimer’s.

Therefore, a panel of biomarkers can be quite useful.  These differentiate between an Alzheimer’s patient from the normal people, or high-risk individuals from the low-risk ones. In addition, use of blood-based tools can help in providing a non-invasive and cost-effective gatekeeper test for early-stage detection. Before moving on to more invasive tests such as MRI imaging or CSF sampling. The idea is to make these devices easily accessible to the public so it can reach larger communities as Alzheimer’s is a global issue and often the clinics receiving the patients may not have access to sophisticated instruments.

What advice would you have for anyone else wanting to work in research?

Research is a full-time job. So, only do it if you really love it. The challenges I have faced, is that I’m more into the commercial side of things. Where there is a vision and a product at the end of it. But in my experience, academia is more about research and the basic science. Therefore, it is better to define your goals and choose your path wisely.

Are there misconceptions about research?

When I started, I was too over ambitious and naive. I had high expectations and goals for my PhD research. However, there is a big gap between what we think when we start and what we achieve. The progress can be much slower than we expected! So, don’t be too over ambitious, because that puts too much pressure on you when half the things are not even in your control. Therefore, its better to enjoy the research, be curious and take it as it comes.

What advice would you have given yourself at the start of your career?

I would say that enjoy your research and don’t plan too far ahead. Research is not just you, it’s a lot of other factors. This includes environment, products, people, and time. Therefore, don’t be too hard on yourself!

What would you like to be working on over the rest of your career?

I would want to do research, I like research. But I am more interested in doing something which will have an immediate impact. Such as, research activities in industries where people have a vision to hit the market within the next five to ten years.

Research in academia is working towards a goal. But you don’t see your product any time soon. You work towards it, and maybe in the future, somebody might pick it up and take it forward.

This is great because there is a huge contribution to knowledge. However, it’s not for me. But overall, I am interested in research, particularly in the field of healthcare.

You can feature in our series!

We would love to feature your story, your advcie and your experience. Do you work within the tech industry and want to feature in our series? We would love to hear from you. We’re looking to share stories and advice from all roles, so whatever your role in tech, get in touch today! Contact Harriet at [email protected] to register your interest.

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