Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 70

Natural curiosity drives
biomedical innovator
Biomedical engineer and winner of a
2016 Claude Leon Merit Award for earlycareer researchers, Dr Sudesh Sivarasu,
draws inspiration from nature to design
his patented medical devices. He spoke to
Helen Swingler about his work.
What attracted you to biomedical
How does the Claude Leon Merit Award support
your research?
As a child in Vellore, India, I was fascinated by
steam engines. My father was a train driver, so
I got plenty of opportunity to see how they
operate. After a terrible road accident, I missed a
wonderful opportunity to do business studies in
the UK. But this was a blessing in disguise. I did
a postgrad degree in biomedical engineering.
It was during my postgrad studies that I began
to appreciate human anatomy and its design;
the body is the most amazing, complex,
interconnected and efficient machine. It led to
further reading and understanding.
It will be used for clinical trials and potential
commercialisation of UCT-patented technology that
underpins the novel Laxmeter device. This was recently
granted patents in the US, UK and South Africa. The
device helps measure laxity [or looseness] in all four
major knee joint ligaments at various levels of flexion
and at full extension. Ligamentous laxity is characterised
by loose ligaments, which causes joint hypermobility
and joint instability. Sports injuries often compromise
ligamentous laxity. The capacity to measure multiligamentous laxity makes the Laxmeter unique.
Your academic career began in India and
was cemented in South Africa?
Yes. I studied electronics and instrumentation
engineering – the equivalent of mechatronics
– at the Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT).
Both electrical and mechanical engineering
design skills are essential to medical device
design. After completing my PhD, I was at
a crossroads: a lucrative corporate career
or a career in academic research? At 26, I
chose academia. As a young academic at
VIT, I designed their undergrad and postgrad
programmes in biomedical engineering. These
are some of the most popular biomedical
programmes in India. But I wanted to explore
scenarios in global health. So, after a brief
tenure at VIT, I got a lecturership in the
Department of Human Biology at UCT in 2011.
Here, I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to set up
clinician discussion platforms and explore the
possibility of establishing an appropriate model
for medical device innovation.
Is this kind of recognition important to an early
career academic?
It is essential. Nothing motivates you better than
recognition for your hard work.
Tell me about the Frugal Biodesign Process you
It’s a unique approach to medical device design and
it is suited specifically to developing countries. I’ve
incorporated this process into my medical device design
course. Thus far, we’ve invented several medical devices
and some are in clinical trials.
What floats your boat as a researcher?
Trusting that the work that I do will make a difference
in someone’s life. I want to serve humanity through
my work.
By Helen Swingler. Image by Michael Hammond.

2016 Claude Leon Merit Award

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