A potential micro-RNA biomarker identified for diabetes in the Indian population

In search of a micro (RNA) solution to a macro disease (diabetes) (Photo: Muthuswamy Balasubramanyam)

          A recent study has identified microRNAs that are potential biomarkers for diabetes. At least one of them is specific to the Indian population.

          Diabetes, a disease involving impaired glucose metabolism, has assumed epidemic proportions due to its high prevalence worldwide. India is estimated to have more than sixty-two million diabetic patients, making it one of the epicentres of the global epidemic. The numbers are predicted to increase exponentially in the coming decades. Worryingly, the age of onset of diabetes in Indians is decreasing, indicating that in the coming years, a substantial section of India’s youth will be suffering from the disease. However, research on diabetes in India has been insufficient, making it difficult to formulate an adequate national response.

       Scientific efforts worldwide have focused on finding biomarkers that can aid screening and early detection of diabetes. Indians comprise the ‘Asian Indian Phenotype’, which refers to a gamut of biochemical and clinical peculiarities in the South Asian population that predisposes it to the disease. This makes direct extrapolation of data obtained from western populations to Indians difficult. This motivated a research group from Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF) to conduct a recent study focussed on finding a biomarker for diabetes specifically tailored for the Indian population.

“The most promising biomarkers should be robust and clinically translatable”, explained Muthuswamy Balasubramanyam, a senior scientist at the foundation and one of the principal investigators of the study. Circulatory microRNAs, small pieces of non-coding RNAs floating in the bloodstream, satisfy both these conditions—they are remarkably stable and require only a blood sample for testing—thus being ideal for large-scale clinical use. MicroRNAs are also known to be master regulators of gene function, affecting a variety of physiological processes. Research has shown that the level of circulating microRNAs changes consistently in various pathophysiologies like cancer and cardiovascular diseases, but little is known about its role in diabetes, especially in the Indian context.

Aiming to identify circulating microRNAs that could serve as biomarkers for diabetes, the investigators recruited three groups of subjects for the study: diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) patients, subjects with normal glucose metabolism (NGT: Normal Glucose Tolerance) and those with pre-diabetic state of Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT). Blood glucose level was measured in all the participants to confirm the grouping. Candidate microRNAs were searched after characterizing the microRNA profile for each participant. “We found that four microRNAs had different serum levels in IGT and T2DM patients compared to control NGT subjects”, said Balasubramanyam. Levels of two of these microRNAs were also similarly altered in diet-induced diabetic mice, providing further support towards their potential usability as a diabetes biomarker. 

“Interestingly, among the altered microRNAs , miR-128 has never been described in previous diabetes studies and appears to be specific for the Indian population”, said Balasubramanyam. Considering that miR-128 has been earlier reported as a biomarker of cognitive impairment and that there exists a neurological component in the etiology of type 2 diabetes, Balasubramanyam speculated that miR-128 could be the connecting link for the cognitive dysfunction and/or depression associated with metabolic diseases like diabetes. miR-128 was further positively correlated with cholesterol both in prediabetic subjects and in diet-induced diabetic mice, suggesting that its increased level might be associated with the development of altered lipid level associated with T2DM.

The results, though preliminary, are exciting because miRNAs are considered to have tremendous potential as non-invasive biomarkers for the screening, monitoring and diagnosis of a disease. The group plans to conduct long-term studies to elucidate the connection of these microRNAs with diabetes to facilitate their use as biomarkers in future. The day might come when a simple blood test would reveal the microRNA profile, facilitating pre-emptive screening of at-risk people. Effective prevention and management can then start right away, before the onset of the disease, which in turn, would lead to a reduction of the burden diabetes imposes on the in Indian nation and society at large.

Original News : IndiaBioscience

Innovative water purification technology by IISC wins Google award

Ground water from Mavillipura before and after purification (Photo: Sanjiv Sambandan)

A Novel wastewater filtration technique developed by a team from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore recently won first place at the Google Pitch Fest in Switzerland. The technology is particularly designed to benefit people in remote and disaster-hit areas that have sources of water, but none that are fit for drinking. No water is wasted in the process, and no membranes or chemicals are used.

“My background is in device physics and circuits. I haven’t really worked in the water technology area before this,” said Sanjiv Sambandan, Assistant Professor at the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics, “but when I started my lab, one of the ideas that we discussed was to use electric fields to purify sewage water.” The proposal got a small amount of funding from IISc. The idea uses the understanding of how particles behave in electric fields. If one disperses particles in any fluid—and if there is a permittivity or conductivity difference between the particles and the fluid, the particles will polarize in an electric field. The polarized particles have an attractive force, which will cluster these tiny particles into larger clumps. Using this along with other phenomena that aid clustering, these larger clumps can be removed with a very low-cost sieve, without the need for a very fine membrane.

The system was initially built on a small printed circuit board as a proof of concept. At that time the throughput was one microliter a minute, which is essentially a tiny droplet. The big challenge was in scaling up and building a technology that could purify a few hundred litres of water within an hour. “The engineering behind increasing the throughput while maintaining a low energy currency has been, in some sense, the most important stride in our work,” said Sambandan. What this took was more a psychological change than any adoption of new techniques.


There exist technologies that can achieve a high level of purification of water. However, these technologies are expensive and don’t lend themselves well to very remote settings or disaster-hit areas, which suffer from limited accessibility and little or no electricity. The question the team asked was: “can these people themselves build a water filter from locally available materials that achieve this goal?” They worked backwards keeping in mind the limited resources that may be available in these settings. Sambandan acknowledged that, much to their surprise, the throughput improvement came about when they peeled off unnecessarily fine precision requirements and started working with a crude set-up. “That, in some sense, led to a nice optimization of the engineering problem,” he said.

While the technique is not as good as the reverse osmosis technology, it meets potable water standards—it can remove sub-micron particles, metal oxides, hardness, all coliform bacteria, and also corrects for pH to some extent. The system also desalinates the water to a small extent. A 1-litre water bottle can be purified in just 5 minutes, powered by batteries, a hand crank or a small solar cell.

For all of the trial demos, the team used Mavallipura bore water, which is known to be extremely contaminated, as the trial source. Currently, they are running a pilot project at the IISc sewage plant. This project is supposed to treat 500L an hour of sewage water. They plan to set up constant testing by several labs, which regularly do water testing with potable water standards and observe how the various contaminants evolve with time. Plans for a larger social project at Mavallipura are also in the pipeline.

–  by Harini Barath

Program Manager (Science Communication),


iGEM Giant Jamboree 2015 & Teams from India.

Image : iGEM

What is iGEM ?

The iGEM Foundation is dedicated to education and competition, advancement of synthetic biology, and the development of open community and collaboration.

The main program at the iGEM Foundation is the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition. The iGEM Competition is the premiere student competition in Synthetic Biology. Since 2004, participants of the competition have experienced education, teamwork, sharing, and more in a unique competition setting.

iGEM is also much more than a competition; our community has a long history of involving students and the public in the development of the new field of synthetic biology.


About The Giant Jamboree :

The Giant Jamboree is the annual event where all of the collegiate and high school iGEM teams come together to present their synthetic biology projects. This year, the Hynes Convention Center, located in historic Boston, MA, will host more than 260 international, multidisciplinary teams eager to share and celebrate their work.

With 15 tracks available, there is something for everyone!

The iGEM competition encourages university and high school student researchers to work in teams and solve real-world challenges by building genetically engineered biological systems with standard, interchangeable parts called BioBricks from the Registry of Standard Biological Parts. Each team manages their own projects, advocates for their research, and secures funding. Teams are also challenged to actively consider and address the safety, security and environmental implications of their work. This Years The Giant Jamboree is in September 24 – 28, 2015 at Hynes Convention Center – Boston, MA.

Teams from India:

This year IISER Pune conducted a national meetup from 16 to 17th July 2015. In other words the first national conference of the undergraduate teams in India. Team members from IIT-Delhi and IIT-Kharagpur made their way to Pune. Since this is an undergraduate contest, with able assistance from administration and the go-aheads from the heads of biology and the director, the students conducted the proceedings ably.

IISER-Pune Project Idea:

           The aim of the project is to propose a potential solution for fast detection of Tuberculosis involving the manipulation of known pathways, genetic-circuits, protein networks and processes at a cellular scale. We wish to develop a genetic device which would interfere with the cell cycle of M. tuberculosis and accelerate its rate of division. This would help us achieve larger cell density within a short interval of time which can be easily detected by some readable output.

     IISER Pune team prepares to make headway with the difficult and sometimes frustrating reaction chemistry of DNA and proteins mixed with cells, they look forward to completing the project in time for the 24-September Giant Jamboree in Boston.

Interesting Project by iGEM Paris-Bettencourt 2O15:

Image : Team Paris_Bettencourt

Video about their Project :  Ferment It Yourself


Other Links :

iGEM IIT Kharagpur.   (Project)

iGEM2015 IISER Pune.

iGEM2015 IIT Delhi.  (Project)

India Meetup of the Synthetic Biology Undergraduate Contest: iGEM 2015.

iGEM & The Giant Jamboree 2015.