Narayan Bhattarai, PhD, is an associate professor of bioengineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He is also the principal investigator at the Bhattarai Research Group, a research institute based in North Carolina. Bhattarai has been awarded a three-year $550,000 grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to research metal-composite biomaterial that will significantly reduce the inflammation and scar formation of wounds, leading to more effective healing for patients. Hailing from Dang, Bhattarai has had a number of experiences working in various universities of the US. In a brief interview with Nepal Live Today, he shared his insights regarding his research and how it will benefit countries like Nepal.
Can you tell us about the theme of your research?
Our research focuses on design and development of health-care-biomaterials that mimic the nano- to micro-scale order found in nature. My research group is teamed with talented researchers from basic science to engineering to address challenging issues in medical problems such as wound healing, tissue engineering, and therapeutic drug delivery. A significant challenge in this field is that many implanted devices stimulate immune reactions that can interfere with tissue healing. We address those issues through our biomaterials-biology-medicine interface engineering technology. A smart biomaterial that mimics the properties of the tissue matrix that promotes faster healing of damaged tissue and wounds. In our recently funded project, we are developing and studying a relatively unexplored type of biomaterial: degradable metal particles in composite mesh. As these materials degrade, they release metal ions and other degradation products that are beneficial for reducing inflammation and scar formation in injured tissues.
How big is your research team? How long will the research take?
My team primarily includes graduate and undergraduate research students, and research scientists. We also collaborate with researchers from medical schools. Our research group changes every year as senior students graduate and move on to their career. Right now, we have three PhD students, three MS students and two undergraduate research students. One Post-Doc is also joining soon. Although the current research project is funded for the next three to four years, research is not going to end with a funding timeline. In research, the more you engage the more you will find problems with more unanswered questions. Doing research in academia is not just solving an open-ended question, you also need to educate and train the new generation of students in the field.
Why is reducing inflammation through biomaterials important? Can such research benefits people in countries like Nepal?
Inflammation plays a critical role in rejection of biomaterials implants in the human body such as skin grafts, bone implants, vascular stents, surgical sutures etc. Although these implants play an important role in body and tissue healing, dysregulated inflammation also has a negative impact. Combining the anti-inflammatory therapeutics along with the biomaterial implants can be a solution but, such consideration very much depends on the type of implant materials, their size, geometry and tissue location. Managing inflammation and infection is more complicated in patients who suffer from any diabetic problems. Research in this area can benefit everyone around the globe. Definitely, if we could reduce the cost and efficacy of the devices that will have a big positive impact on economically disadvantaged people in a developing country like Nepal.
Is Bhattarai Research Lab undertaking other researches as well at the moment?
Yes, we do have other researches going as well. My past and current research projects are funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense and National Institute of Health. The primary materials that we do engineer in the lab include polymer, metal and polymers that have been successfully used to develop smart medical devices for disease diagnosis and treatment. We are also designing biomaterials to create tissue-mimicking microenvironments and smart nano-diagnostic probes for drug delivery. Our research efforts will be continued to explore novel and existing biomaterials as an innovative solution to dissect the interface of engineering and medicine.
Nepal is quite behind in terms of research and development? What should the Nepal government do to promote R&D in the country? How can scientists like you help?
I agree. Our country needs more to do in the R&D sector. Nepal is rich in herbs and natural products. These materials have enormous health benefits including reducing wound inflammation and infection. To have a significant impact on these resources, universities and government entities should have meaningful partnerships with private companies. Academic classrooms should increase more hands-on learning. I see things are changing these days. It’s not like 20-25 years ago during my time. Those days doing research in an academic lab was very tough. These days lots of young Nepali professors, scientists, and students are engaging in research. There is still a disconnect between policy-making people’s thought process with reality. More needs to be done. A significant number of Nepali diaspora are doing excellent things in science and technology abroad. Many university professors including myself can contribute to Nepal in many different ways such as by directly engaging with university professors in research, co-advising MS/PhD students in their research, designing and implementing innovative curriculum etc. I teach graduate students in the area of science and engineering-intensive-biomaterials based health care technologies. In this area, our research has been published in several scientific journals with respective citation history. I am interested in collaborating with both academic and industry partners to yield benefits for interdisciplinary research and commercial opportunities.