COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING & SCIENCE
COES Doctoral Student Helps Develop Biosensor Neuroprobe
Have you ever wondered how you could be involved in creating life-saving technology? For PhD Molecular Sciences and Nanotechnology student Sanjeev Billa, it was as simple as focusing his doctoral studies on nanotechnology, finding a research position with an expert in designing advanced materials and learning a little biomedical engineering along the way.
Since joining Dr. Prabhu Arumugam’s Advanced Material Research Laboratory, Sanjeev has collaborated with an interdisciplinary team to develop a novel biosensor neuroprobe. This innovative device simultaneously monitors the levels of glutamate and GABA neurotransmitters in real time over an extended duration of at least two weeks. The significance of accurate, high-resolution measurement of these neurotransmitters will be pivotal in helping neurologists devise therapeutic approaches for brain disorders like traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Sanjeev’s principal responsibility within this high-risk project centers on formulating a new enzyme coating. In this intricate part of the project, he is tasked with applying this resilient coating onto closely spaced microelectrodes. These are meticulously patterned on a minuscule silicon probe, an exercise requiring both precision and expertise.
In this role with Dr. Arumugam, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Chair of Louisiana Tech University’s Mechanical Engineering program, Sanjeev gained experience using multichannel potentiostat tools, designing experiments, and extrapolating conclusions that helped advance the research into sensor technology. He also learned to collaborate with researchers from diverse backgrounds.
I’ve had the chance to work with research groups with different sets of expertise, like Dr. Teresa Murray [Interim Academic Director for Chemical and Biomedical Engineering and Professor of Biomedical Engineering] and her students at Tech on implanting and validating the probes in a live rat model, Dr. Nicolaie “Mike” Moldovan [Founder and President of Alcorix Co.] on looking at the commercial aspects of the biosensor development and Dr. Shabnam Siddiqui [Research Associate Professor at the Center for Biomedical Engineering and Rehabilitation Science] at Tech on the electrochemical characterization of the sensing electrode for achieving superior electrical and electrochemical properties.
The multidisciplinary aspect of the project has provided me with invaluable insights into the function of the biosensors in very challenging in vivo environments and particularly in the context of detecting the two neurotransmitters and understanding their intricate dynamics in the brain function.
The research was funded by a two-phase, multimillion-dollar U.S. National Institutes of Health Small Business Technology Transfer program grant to continue his innovative development of neural probes. With Phase I completed, Sanjeev and the team will test delivery methods and proof-of-concept probe prototypes they developed over the past four years. They will rigorously assess the performance and reliability of the neuroprobes.
The project challenged me to look at a scientific/engineering problem in different aspects than a typical research problem in academia. For example, how can one achieve a high sensitivity, high selectivity detection with excellent reliability that is very much needed in a final product? This made me investigate each coating process step with a magnifying glass and relate its effect on the project’s end goal, which is developing a brain chemical sensor with superior performance.
I am truly grateful for the opportunities Dr. Arumugam has provided me. His expertise in the field has been a constant source of inspiration for me. His mentorship has shaped my research and equipped me with valuable skills that I will carry forward in my career. I greatly appreciate the collaborative environment he has cultivated in our lab, which has allowed me to learn and grow in a supportive atmosphere. I am also excited to work in the newly funded Phase II of the project, which will allow me to train and mentor a new PhD student in our group. I believe all the skills (both soft and technical ones) will allow me to be a fully prepared and successful researcher in my future career.
In addition to Dr. Arumugam’s lab, Dr. Murray’s and Dr. Siddiqui’s labs will help conduct early animal model trials during Phase II, and the team will start working with medical centers to develop sensor technologies that are ultimately human-compatible. Industry partners Alcorix Co. and NeuroNexus will help package and distribute the final product.
Sanjeev excelled in conceptualizing multiple solutions for a new research problem.
This impactful research is a direct result of the interdisciplinary nature of research that has been ongoing in COES for many years. I am especially proud of how his efforts, along with those from Dr. Arumugam and collaborators, have made great progress in this project due to their combined hard work. I am confident that Sanjeev will be able to take what he learned here to make even more significant contributions to society throughout his career.