Dhiraj Bhatia wins Outstanding Thesis Award

Friday, November 8th, 2013
Dhiraj Bhatia

Dhiraj Bhatia, doctoral student of NCBS Assistant Professor Yamuna Krishnan from 2007 to 2013, has won the First Prize in the Eli Lilly and Company Asia Outstanding Thesis Award for this year. His thesis titled Icosahedral DNA nanocapsules for targeted functional bioimaging in cellulis and in vivo explores structural DNA nanotechnology, a field of nano-research which utilizes the basic principles of DNA structure to create complex systems and devices that have extensive scientific and technological applications.

For his doctoral work, Bhatia developed the most complex nanostructure to date - an icosahedron, a regular, convex three-dimensional solid with twenty flat faces, thirty straight edges and twelve vertices. Developing such complicated structures is an important component of structural DNA nanotechnology because they can carry 'cargo' such as drug molecules in their cavities or capsules (cages in scientific parlance), helping realize more effective medicines. This approach is used in techniques such as bioimaging, the viewing of biological structures using tools like high-power microscopes - often the very crux of scientific research.

Guided by his supervisor Krishnan, Bhatia set to work on creating the complicated icosahedron. Along the way, they were able to identify and test novel approaches. "We developed for the first time, a general strategy to encapsulate different external cargoes physically within the DNA cages," says Bhatia. They also demonstrated this process. "We showed the encapsulation of gold nanoparticles which can be visualized by transmission electron microscopy and fluorescent polymers. We also showed the cellular and in vivo targeted uptake of these cargo-loaded DNA cages in model systems like the fruitfly Drosophila hemocytes and the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans," adds Bhatia. "Overall, my work has led to the establishment of a platform technology where in principle you can encapsulate various cargoes and these can have many applications in targeted drug delivery and bioimaging," says Bhatia.

"This work was described as a tour-de-force by reviewers of Dhiraj's papers," says Krishnan. "Dhiraj's genuine desire to achieve and his free-hearted, intellectually generous and scientifically outgoing nature benefited his work, where it ultimately turned out to be highly cross-disciplinary and ground-breaking. He is someone to watch."

In recognition of his research, the National Organic Symposium Trust (NOST) will award Bhatia a Lilly plaque and a cash prize of 1500 US dollars on 4th December 2013 at the J-NOST Conference for Young Researchers, to be held at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal. Bhatia is delighted that his thesis, one of just twenty, has been chosen from across the country for the year 2012-2013. "Alone, I would have never been able to achieve this," says Bhatia. "All credit goes to my supervisor Yamuna who recognized my potential to do this. It is a joint award for all who worked on this project in her laboratory. All my labmates especially Shabana Mehtab and Saikat Chakraborty stood by me through every moment of my doctoral research," he adds. Bhatia is currently pursuing postdoctoral research in the Traffic, Signaling and Delivery Laboratory at the Institut Curie in Paris, France. His work focuses on understanding the mechanisms by which toxins are absorbed by cell membranes.

(Story edited by Geoff Hyde)


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