Solving Problems with Multidisciplinary Contributions

Interview with IdeaConnection problem solver Dr. Livy Alex Shivra
By Paul Arnold
Dr. Livy Alex Shivraj says she’s always open to opportunities, especially when related to innovation and science. So when she came across IdeaConnection’s website and read about the open innovation paradigm she felt compelled to sign up as a solver.

A seasoned problem solver, Dr. Shivraj has worked in life sciences for almost 20 years and has published numerous papers. She is now the Technical Director of SLS Cell Cure Technologies Pvt Ltd in India, a company she started in 2014.

In this interview she talks about this new chapter in her career and her experience of working on multidisciplinary IdeaConnection teams, including success with her very first challenge.

Livy AlexFirst of all, let’s just start with a bit of background on what you are doing with Cell Cure Technologies.

We are just beginning. So what we do here are advanced molecular diagnostics. We are trying to come up with new rapid assays for diagnosing any disease in a very quick and affordable manner. We would like to bring down the cost of these tests because they are generally very high and the majority of people cannot afford them in India. If you go to corporate hospitals the prices are very high.

My aim is to bring down the cost of such tests by innovating the methodology in such a way that I can give the test at a much, much lower cost. It will be suitable for any disease. Currently I am working on infectious diseases like HIV, TB, dengue and malaria.

How are you doing this?

I have developed a platform technology for a range of diseases. I have to design primers for each specific disease, but the technology remains the same. So I can actually bring down the cost a lot that way. I will be designing specific primers for strains that are endemic to India. Currently we have all these kits coming in from the USA and the west. The problem with that is, let's say I am working on an HIV strain taken from the US population. It may not necessarily work in India. A strain in India might have mutated and become 'Indianish'. What I am trying to do is make primers to the HIV strain that are prevalent to India. In this way the test is more accurate, sensitive and specific.

Fascinating. Onto IdeaConnection now and what was the nature of the first challenge you worked on?

It was a plant-based challenge. When plant companies genetically modify seeds they want sterile seeds. But there is a risk that fertility factors can contaminate nuclear DNA.

How did your team arrive at the solution?

When we started looking at this challenge we found that the seeker had done a bit of work earlier. We started brainstorming and our solution evolved. In fact, we came up with several different strategies and submitted three solutions.

Did you have more faith in one solution over another?

We presented the solutions in an order of ranking. The seeker came back to us and wanted a few more clarifications on these three solutions. They had already tried one of the solutions. However, they said the other two solutions were brilliant and gave us a partial reward for this.

How did that feel?

It was good, but a little disappointing because it was a partial award. But in any case it felt nice because working on the challenge was intrinsically rewarding. When they said our ideas were brilliant that motivated me to go onto other challenges. It also felt really good because it was success with my first challenge.

So you have an appetite to take on more challenges?

I have just finished one more challenge and we're waiting for the result. This was from a food technology company, and it was also very interesting.

How have you found this way of doing innovation, being on a challenge team and meeting virtually?

I really liked it. It was a very positive experience, especially getting to know different people from different cultural backgrounds and different disciplines, and hearing different ideas. Multidisciplinary contributions helped a lot with solving something as complex as this.

Would you ever consider working on teams where the subject matter is outside of your comfort zone?

I would love to work in a field which is not in my comfort zone, but I have already done that in some way. For example, if you look at the plant challenge. This was totally plant based and I work on human diseases, so it was a little bit outside of my field. I enjoyed it because basically what matters is that macromolecules of all the organisms of this world are the same - the DNA, the RNA, the proteins - they're all the same. So the way molecular biology works is the same, whether it’s an ant, plant or human being.

However, really working outside my comfort zone would be great because it would be more challenging and interesting. It would mean that I would have to conduct more research on the problem and I am always open to that.

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