Get­ting the

LIFE IN A LAB Bio­chemists study the zil­lions of si­mul­ta­ne­ous chem­i­cal re­ac­tions that oc­cur in the hu­man body and help physi­cians pre­scribe drugs to cure dis­eases

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - HT Education - - Front Page - Proy­ashi Barua

Med­i­cal treat­ment can of­ten go per­fectly right or hor­ri­bly wrong - sub­ject to the ac­cu­racy of the di­ag­no­sis, which is why peo­ple work­ing in med­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ries have to be ex­tra vig­i­lant at work. To­day’s mod­ern lab­o­ra­to­ries are manned by per­son­nel from the three de­part­ments of bio­chem­istry, pathol­ogy and mi­cro­bi­oloy.

Dr Malavika Bar­man, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor, depart­ment of bio­chem­istry, Gauhati Med­i­cal Col­lege ex­plains, “The bio­chemists look af­ter all the rou­tine chem­i­cal tests done on blood, cere­brospinal fluid, urine etc. These are mainly the lev­els of blood sugar, liver and re­nal func­tions, lipid pro­file, dif­fer­ent hor­mone lev­els etc. They also deal with spe­cialised tests like can­cer mark­ers, molec­u­lar ge­net­ics and ge­netic pro­fil­ing. Pathol­o­gists look into cell and tis­sue mor­phol­ogy. Study of tis­sue his­tol­ogy gives a clue to var­i­ous types and stages of dis­ease pro­gres­sion. mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gists help to iden­tify which mi­crobes (bac­te­ria, virus or fungi) are re­spon­si­ble for caus­ing dis­eases and also de­ter­mine whether a mi­crobe has mu­tated or not. They also help the physi­cian in pre­scrib­ing the drug best suited to kill a cer­tain in­fec­tion.”

At all lev­els the three branches work in tan­dem, com­ple­ment­ing each other to help pa­tients. Dr Bar­man has an in­ter­est­ing take on her spe­cial­i­sa­tion and says that it has con­sid­er­able scope for new learn­ings and dis­cov­ery. In her words, “Our body can be vi­su­alised to be the most com­pli­cated ma­chine, with each body process be­ing car­ried out by zil­lions of chem­i­cal re­ac­tions go­ing on in tan­dem. Any de­vi­a­tion man­i­fests as a change in blood lev­els of cer­tain pa­ram­e­ters. The at­tempt to un­der­stand this in­ter­est­ing world of mol­e­cules inspired me to be­come a bio­chemist.”

Bar­man says that the last 12 years as a bio­chemist has taken her through a roller-coaster of ‘highs’ and a few ‘lows’. “Once a fa­ther had brought his ail­ing four-year-old child for some blood tests pre­scribed by the physi­cian. How­ever, af­ter tak­ing the pa­tient history we de­cided on run­ning a few ad­di­tional tests not req­ui­si­tioned by the physi­cian at our own cost. The tests came ab­nor­mal, in­di­cat­ing a to­tally dif­fer­ent dis­ease pro­gres­sion. We in­formed his physi­cian who changed his treat­ment pro­to­col and the child was saved. The physi­cian, a very se­nior per­son, was all praise for our work.”

“A huge low,” ac­cord­ing to Dr Bar­man, is when she en­coun­ters in­stances of how the “public at large is un­aware of the role of a med­i­cal bio­chemist. “This is a huge ‘low’. More­over, in spite of so many MD bio­chemists pass­ing out ev­ery year, many or­gan­i­sa­tions are still re­cruit­ing MSc bio­chemists (who have no med­i­cal de­gree) to do pa­tient re­port­ing and also as teach­ing fac­ulty of med­i­cal col­leges.”

Re­search is a very vi­tal part of this field. “With­out en­gag­ing in re­search we can­not hope for new in­for­ma­tion and in­no­va­tion to strengthen our ar­se­nal against dis­eases,” shares Dr Bar­man.

Talk­ing about her vi­sion she con­cludes, “Given an op­por­tu­nity, one day I would like to make my dream to take so­phis­ti­cated di­ag­nos­tic fa­cil­i­ties to the small towns and vil­lages a re­al­ity. Rather than pa­tients com­ing to big­ger towns and cities, I want di­ag­nos­tic fa­cil­i­ties to reach the com­mu­nity. How­ever, I feel one can’t hope of reach­ing a goal if one doesn’t dream of do­ing so.”


Dr Malavika Bar­man, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor, depart­ment of bio­chem­istry, Gauhati Med­i­cal Col­lege, checks out the latest ver­sion of an au­to­anal­yser; a ma­chine used for study­ing blood sam­ples.

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