At C-CAMP in Bengaluru, science is discussed with a ‘sweet’ touch

An informal platform to learn more about the translational possibilities of research, Sugar Rush with Science has been acting as a bridge between academia and industry

Updated - June 29, 2023 05:33 pm IST

Published - June 29, 2023 05:00 am IST - Bengaluru

Sugar Rush sees two speakers, an academician and a startup founder, giving two different perspectives on the same topic

Sugar Rush sees two speakers, an academician and a startup founder, giving two different perspectives on the same topic | Photo Credit: C-CAMP

It’s a pleasant Friday afternoon at the quaint campus of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) in Bengaluru. A small crowd has gathered inside the cafeteria.

The café staff lays down bowls in which soon the crowd would be served ice cream and mango slices. Meanwhile, Dr. Mukund Thattai, faculty at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), and Dr. Aridni Shah, co-founder and CEO of immunitoAI, get ready for an informal chat with the audience on computational approaches in medicine.

A physicist studying the dynamics of cell membranes, Dr. Thattai offers an academician’s perspective. Dr. Shah, whose start-up is into discovering novel antibodies with the help of AI, talks from an entrepreneur’s point of view. After an hour’s session, several members of the audience continue to chat with the speakers on the side, as they all savour sweet cones of ice cream.

Near them on a whiteboard is written ‘Sugar Rush.’

Science with some ‘sugar’

It’s not often that ‘ice cream’ and ‘computational approaches in medicine’ are said in the same breath, but that’s ‘Sugar Rush with Science’ held at C-CAMP every month.

Conceived as an informal platform for the campus community to learn more about the translational possibilities of their research, it has been acting as a bridge between academia and the industry.

C-CAMP as an institution acts as a catalyst to bring together research and innovation in life sciences. Along with InStem, it forms part of the Bangalore Life Sciences Cluster (BLiSC) that was nucleated by NCBS.

Adding a sweet touch, all attendees and speakers are served ice cream.

Adding a sweet touch, all attendees and speakers are served ice cream. | Photo Credit: C-CAMP

While such institutions have been driving some pathbreaking research over the years, many of them often find innovation and research happening within silos. This keeps knowledge generated within walls limiting the possibilities of larger impacts. ‘Sugar Rush’ was introduced two years back with the aim of bringing down these walls.

Held once every month, it sees two speakers – an academician and a startup founder from the same field, giving two different perspectives on opportunities and possibilities for researchers and start-ups.

Adding a sweet touch to it, all attendees and speakers are served free ice cream.

Breaking silos

“Science innovation needs to be in such an environment. The campus is very large and there is a huge breadth of science and innovation going on at the campus right from basic research to translational research to innovational research. We should find ways to utilise it,” says Dr Taslimarif Saiyed, CEO and director of C-CAMP.

Dr Taslimarif Saiyed

Dr Taslimarif Saiyed

He notes that in geographies that have done well in terms of science and innovation, a PhD student, a postdoc or a faculty can easily talk about the business opportunity of the field of science they are into, which is not often the case in India.

Although the first session of Sugar Rush was held almost two years back, later it was paused due to Covid restrictions and lockdown. With the campus coming back to life, the platform has also now been revived.

The audience is usually a mix of PhD students, post-docs, startups, faculties and so on. According to Dr. Saiyed, the impact of such informal platforms is different from that of more formal sessions like workshops.

“The idea is to build an environment or a culture in a casual setting rather than targeting direct outcomes,” he says.

“A PhD student gets to listen to the thought process that goes behind innovation development, and an innovation developer gets to know what goes into doing deep science research. An opportunity may arise out of it for someone, and that’s great. But it’s more about building a mindset.”

Multiple paths

Aridni Shah, the founder of immunitoAI and NCBS alumnus, remembers that she was barely aware of C-CAMP when she was doing her PhD at NCBS in 2014 and how getting into an industry job was looked down upon by the research community then.

“If people couldn’t become post-doc or faculty, they would take up some monotonous job and probably return to academia after a while. This happens because people are not aware of the multiple options they have after doing PhD,” she says.

Dr Aridni Shah feels several researchers are unaware that there are multiple paths they could choose after PhD

Dr Aridni Shah feels several researchers are unaware that there are multiple paths they could choose after PhD | Photo Credit: C-CAMP

“Sometimes institutes also don’t have that kind of a provision. If researchers want to pursue business applications in their field, institutions don’t know what the process is, how to do documentation and so on,” she says.

Another limiting factor is low-risk appetite.

“To make that transition from academic to industry, researchers need to see that some crazily innovative work is happening here. These days there are start-ups doing amazing research and platforms like Sugar Rush are important in creating the awareness that translational research is a possibility one could look into.”

Broadening horizons

Sahil Lall, an NCBS PhD student whose work looks into membrane protein dynamics, is defending his thesis this week. He has attended almost all Sugar Rush sessions so far.

“It’s a unique opportunity to talk to people who have expertise in translating basic research,” he says.

“What we do is fundamental – basic science has its own space and requirement. But at the talk, besides a faculty speaker, there is always somebody from the industry who gives us their idea about the use of that science, the challenges they face as an industry person, their requirements and so on. So, it broadens horizons from both ends.”

Lall himself has entrepreneurial ambitions and feels such platforms help researchers to get out of a bubble and ignite the entrepreneurial spirit within them.

Platforms like sugar rush help research students broaden their horizons

Platforms like sugar rush help research students broaden their horizons | Photo Credit: C-CAMP

Neeladri Chowdhury, an associate translational scientist at C-CAMP, agrees.

“Be it us working in the labs or other students doing their PhDs at NCBS or inStem, we get to generally see only one side or a few parts of the entire scientific process. From the discovery of something to its impact on the larger society is a long way. In a lab, you only get to see small snippets of it. Attending such sessions and listening to both sides of a common topic gives you a larger perspective on the topic.”

Cherry on top

For C-CAMP CEO Dr. Saiyed who was a postdoc at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) where free pizza was a major attraction of the many talks he attended, Sugar Rush is also a homecoming of sorts.

“There (UCSF) at those talks I saw the brilliant possibility to take science to the next level. Such platforms are about the translation of science to the next level. Ice cream is always the cherry on the top.”

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