PathShodh – a medical device startup incubated at IISc has developed a point of care device that can measure biomarkers related to chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure, anaemia and liver disease. Vinay Kumar, cofounder/CEO of PathShodh tells Manupriya about his journey from a small town in Uttar Pradesh to Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore – where the idea of starting PathShodh first took shape.
What got you interested in diabetes diagnostics?
I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when I was merely fourteen. When the doctor broke the news to me, neither I nor my parents had much idea about what diabetes meant. On hearing about the insulin injections, I was so disappointed that the doctor didn’t have the heart to tell me, the injections were for lifetime. He tried to soothe me saying that I would need them for 10 days only.
This was late 90s and we were in a small town in Uttar Pradesh. I was convinced that an injection is the ultimate cure for any disease. I was going to get 10 of them. So, despite being worried about how much will the injections hurt I was mildly reassured that the problem has been taken care of. Of course, in a matter of a couple of days I discovered the truth.
Ever since, I haven’t done much other than focusing on my work/ studies and managing my blood glucose. Both these aspects of my life merged when I decided to pursue a Ph.D with Prof. Navakanta Bhat at IISc, who was working on making diagnostic devices for diabetics. Prof. Navakanta Bhat is a well known scientist in the field of silicon technology and sensors. He currently heads the interdisciplinary centre CeNSE in IISc.
You are an Electronics Engineer by training/education. What lured you into research?
Being a diabetic, I was always interested in latest research and emerging diagnostics in the field. However, an incident forced me to think about actively participating in the research rather than be a passive bystander.
After living with diabetes for many years, the disease had begun taking a toll on my body. I started getting hypoglycaemic quite often. Between 2008 and 2010, I faced several episodes of hypoglycaemia. In one such incident, I was sitting down to eat my lunch. Just before the food arrived I took my regular shot of Insulin. In a matter of seconds, I turned hypoglycaemic and fainted. I woke up hours later in a hospital surrounded by doctors and paramedics.
Though I came out pretty much unscathed by the incident, I couldn’t put it at the back of my mind. I constantly thought about ways to enable a diabetic manage his diseases better. PhD followed soon – where the idea of a low cost multi-analyte diagnostic device was first born.
What exactly does this device do? How can a diabetic use it?
Called anuPath or Multi-analyte, the device looks like a palm-sized tablet with a touch screen user interface. Once you switch on the device, a list of 8 tests appears on the screen. You can choose the test; insert your sample- which is either a drop of blood or urine, on specially designed disposable strips and in about 60 seconds the results will appear on the screen. On anuPath, per test cost is less than 60% of the total pathology cost of these tests.
Our device can help in early detection of complications and overall management of diabetes. In diabetes, every part of the human body is affected. For example, diabetes is responsible for about 50% kidney failure worldwide. Early detection of these complications can avoid early mortality. Our device can detect the early markers of kidney damage and help clinicians halt end stage renal failure.
What is the underlying technology?
The core technology lies in electrochemical disposable test strips coated with proprietary chemistry. For example, presence of albumin protein in urine is an early marker for kidney malfunction in diabetes. However, it is very hard to detect. We studied its chemical properties and were able to find chemical compounds that had very high and selective affinity for albumin. This understanding about albumin’s chemical nature helped us develop a detection strip that could be used to detect albumin in urine, even at very low concentrations. Other detection strips were made using similar chemical technologies. We have four international and three Indian patents for all the detection technologies being used in anuPath.
Was all this work done as part of your Ph.D?
Technology was developed during my PhD under the guidance of Prof. Navakanta Bhat at the Centre for Nano Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Science. The clinical validations started after we incubated PathShodh in 2015.
What were the biggest challenges along the way?
Team building is one of the biggest challenges in any new organization. Soon after, Prof. Navakanta Bhat and I decided to start PathShodh, Gautam Sharma – a classmate from MSc days joined hands with us as another co-founder. We faced our share of challenges in finding the right people. However, we are fortunate that our research attracted youngsters from different disciplines and we were eventually able to build a balanced team. Another big challenge was ensuring the accuracy and robustness of the device. Though we had developed the technology much earlier, clinical validation took time. We tested thousands of human samples and compared them against lab gold standards.
How did you go about taking the product to market?
First version of anuPath is ready for market now. In this phase, we are targeting clinicians, NGOs and primary health centres (PHCs). We hope to reach a wider base of people in the next phase.
What do you think is the future of technologies like yours, in India?
India is world’s diabetes capital, with around 69 million diabetics living in the country. Glycaemic control or regulating blood sugar is the key element in diabetes management.
Although glucometers are available and used widely, they don’t give a wholesome picture. All they do is giving an idea about blood glucose level at one time point. anuPath opens new windows, allowing one to understand how blood glucose levels have been in a 15 day span or even in a 90 day period by a doing glycated albumin and HbA1c tests respectively.
Though similar tests are available in pathological labs, anuPath brings it to the masses through its point-of-care technology at a lower cost. Even those living in rural and remotest parts of India can have access to specialized testing through our platform – making it extremely useful for public health.
Next goal for PathShodh…?
Our long term strategy will be – making the technology accessible for home users. We are working on a new version of the device, especially suited for home care with fewer tests on the menu and a dongle-like structure.
Featured Image: PathShodh Team, Credit: PathShodh Healthcare