This scientist developed sensor to detect signs of heart attacks much faster than conventional tests
In 2016, news of a new 10-minute test for heart damage assessment hit the headlines. Biologists from Delhi and physicists from Chandigarh had jointly developed a sensor to detect, within 10 minutes, a protein linked to heart attacks, confirming heart muscle damage faster than standard tests.
Standard tests take about two hours to detect troponin (a cardiac biomarker or proteins that indicate increased chances of a heart attack) levels. While just 0.48 nanograms per microlitre of blood are detected in the conventional system, the new graphene-based sensor can detect 0.192 picograms per millilitre of blood, and is 4,000 times more sensitive. The research was published in Nature India.
Dr Inderpreet Kaur, 42, principal scientist at Council of Scientific and Industrial Research - Central Scientific Instruments Organisation (CSIO-CSIR) worked on the project, one that’s very close to her heart as it saves lives of people with cardiac complications.
Kaur, who did her PhD on a CSIR fellowship from Panjab University, did doctoral research on “charge transfer” in DNA to find out how DNA mutations can lead to cancer.
Now studying physics of nanomaterials, she is working on two-dimensional material, the latest being graphene. A one-atom thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, graphene is the building block of graphite (used for pencils and solar panels). “It is a multilayer structure and when we take its single layer, charges on it are freed and travel at the speed of light,” Kaur says. This in future can be used to reduce heating in devices.
Talking about another remarkable and widely recognised research, Kaur talks about discovery of nanodiamonds, which are below the size of one micrometre, in havan kunds in which fires are lit for religious ceremonies. “The nanodiamonds are formed when there is carbon emission from burning wood and smoke deposits. “We took samples from a havan kund and discovered nanodiamonds in its deep layers. We also discovered blue nanodiamonds which have huge implications in biological imaging and diagnosing diseases,” says Kaur, who did her postgraduation in physics from Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, and graduation from Anandpur Sahib.
Kaur was far removed from the world of science and scientists while growing up in Anandpur Sahib. Her father was a preacher in a gurdwara and mother a housewife. She developed an inclination for science studies during her school days. The Government Girls Senior Secondary School where Kaur studied had good facilities which were even better than private schools, she says.
“It’s because of my teacher and my school that I am working in this field. We had fully-equipped labs where we would spend all our free time because we were encouraged to do so,” Kaur says.
“Our teachers encouraged us to take samples home and study them. That’s when we got interested in science.”
Kaur believes scientists should not run after recognition and rewards, which come with time and effort. Inspired by Albert Einstein, she admires her teacher, Dr Arvind, now officiating director of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali.
Criticising the culture of godfathers in this field, Kaur says, “People think that they will achieve something by holding somebody else’s hand and that doesn’t happen.” One needs to make their own identity and work hard to achieve something,” she adds.
Kaur who wants to be able to produce more devices and applications for the benefit of mankind says career setbacks were a low for her after she had two children but she managed to get back to work quickly.
A science buff herself, Kaur’s daughter, now a Class 5 student, makes YouTube videos of different experiments.
When not studying the nanoparticles, Kaur indulges in spiritual reading, spending time with her children, travelling, yoga and cooking.