Looking at Problems from Different Perspectives

Interview with IdeaConnection solver Prashanth Bagali
Prashanth Bagali is a scientist and entrepreneur who specializes in human genetics, human diseases and medical microbiology.

After receiving his PhD in Genetics and Plant Breeding from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore he pursued doctoral degree research at the International Rice Research Institute, Philippines under the Rockefeller Foundation fellowship. His post-doctoral research at the National Institute of Health, Bethesda, USA focused on genetic diseases in humans, using microarray technology.

photo of Prashanth BagaliDuring his career Prashanth has co-founded two companies in Malaysia and India involved in the manufacture and development of PCR-based molecular diagnostic kits for numerous tropical infectious diseases. Here he talks about his motivation as a scientist and his experience as a successful solver with IdeaConnection.

The reason I chose plant science was for the service of humanity. In 2003-2005 I worked in bioinformatics and that triggered the entrepreneurial spirit in me. And then when I came back to India in 2005 I realized that I needed to build a company of my own, and with cutting edge technology translate all my research ideas into products that help humanity in whatever way.

I have so far co-founded two companies – Infovalley Biosystems and Geneflux. Here in Malaysia Geneflux has helped with the nation building process. The technology licenses from many of the public universities were never commercialized and so we developed a public-private partnership program and have been turning those research endeavors into concrete commercial products and prototypes. What we are about is defined by our company motto, “A passion for science and science in action.”

Innovations in Diagnostics

We are best known for our diagnostic kits based on PCR technology. In clinical diagnosis the symptoms of some diseases can appear similar for a while. Fever can be caused by more than five or six organisms and doctors have different treatments for different fevers caused by different organisms – for example, Dengue fever is different from H1N1 in terms of fever and it can be problematic if doctors are unable to make a differential diagnosis.

So they send a blood sample to us which we can analyse for numerous organisms - whether they are present or absent. And when they are present we are able to tell medical professionals that these are PCR-detected organisms. So based on that they will create a personalized treatment for their patients. Our tests are fast, accurate and highly sensitive.

Dengue is one of our priorities here. Typically tropical diseases have not received much attention from advanced countries like the USA or European countries. Most of the research thus far has been about killing the mosquitoes that transmit the virus that causes the disease rather than early diagnostics. So we are investing heavily in dengue diagnostics.

We have a couple of kits but are working on some new technologies to make them affordable for everyone.

Team-Based Challenge with IdeaConnection

I always like to work on plant projects and so it was very interesting when IdeaConnection selected me to take part in a team that was very diversified. I was involved in the haploid cucumber challenge project.

With my scientific experience and my ten years of commercial experience I’m always able to look at problems from different perspectives and translate ideas into commercial concepts. The other team members were very senior people and it was very nice for me to be able to learn from them.

Overall it was an amazing experience doing the science and sharing ideas, and then critically analysing the problem to come out with a strategy or proposal method that really addressed the requirement comprehensively.

Working on Solutions

We really got started after a teleconference with the seeker where we asked for further clarification of the challenge statement. Initially we had lots of questions and that is how we got to understand the problem and what the seeker really wanted. Because the objectives of the project were very complex and involved wide areas of research I knew about 20-30 per cent of the solution upfront.

Our solution was accepted by the seeker and it was nice to receive the financial reward ($2,500 per team member). Although the amount was not greatly significant I was happy that something we developed could have a commercial benefit.

Collaborative Science

This way of doing science using experts from different backgrounds in different parts of the world to work collaboratively is the only way for the future. Previously, research in some fields has been too narrow because they haven’t benefited from the input of people from different scientific disciplines from different regions.

Here in Malaysia some of us in plant science work in the field and so we know the problems faced by farmers. Therefore, we have some of the solutions which are unique and special and may not be documented and published elsewhere. So when I was talking to my colleagues on the haploid cucumber challenge I dug out a publication from 1864. They were very surprised that this research had actually started in the 19th century because it wasn’t in American or European journals and hadn’t been documented by them.

So basically collaborative research is the future and it will have a broad application that creates a lot of value in the market.

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