BIOFILM BAITHAK: AN INDIA SPECIFIC MEETUP

Adline Princy Solomon (Associate Dean of Research, SASTRA Deemed University and Head/Principle Investigator, Quorum Sensing Lab, SASTRA Deemed University), Arval Viji Elango (Project student, SASTRA Deemed University), Deepti Jain (Associate Professor, Regional Centre for Biotechnology), Karishma Kaushik (Assistant Professor, University of Pune), Karthi Shanmugham (PhD Student, SASTRA Deemed University), Mahima Lall (Professor, Armed Forces Medical College) Nijamuddin Shaikh (Junior Research Fellow, University of Pune), Parvathy Venkateswara (Project student, SASTRA Deemed University), Radhika Dhekane (Senior Research Fellow, University of Pune), Rohit Ruhal (Research Associate), Sahana Vasudevan (DST – INSPIRE fellow, SASTRA Deemed University) & Snehal Kadam (PhD Student, Hull York Medical School)

Introduction to Biofilms

Biofilms are resilient and organized communities of microbes embedded in a glue-like matrix of extracellular polymers. Bacteria and fungi form biofilms on biotic and abiotic surfaces, such as tooth enamel, skin, mucosa, catheters, prosthetic valves, as well as water pipelines and filtration units. In the human body, biofilms mediate a range of infections including chronic wound infections, pneumonia, endocarditis, and eye, ear and implant-associated infections, posing a significant challenge and burden to the healthcare industry. Food, dairy, and pharmaceutical industries are also impacted by microbial biofilms as they cause contamination, hinder manufacturing processes, and may lead to economic losses.

Overview of India Biofilms Society

India Biofilms Society (IBS) is a consortium of biofilm researchers spread across India, consisting of independent investigators, postdoctoral researchers and research associates, Ph.D. students, research assistants, Masters and undergraduate students. The society aims to foster biofilm-related research in the country, across academia, industry and the clinic, as well as forge international partnerships. In February 2021, IBS organized “Biofilm Baithak”, a virtual meet-up for biofilm researchers across the country. This article aims to present an account of the key takeaways from the meeting, and provide a collection of resources and materials that can be of value to biofilm researchers across India.

Scientific Sessions and Panel Discussions

Building A Biofilm Research Group in India: Dr. Adline Solomon (Associate Dean of Research, SASTRA Deemed University and Head/Principle Investigator, Quorum Sensing Lab, SASTRA Deemed University)

Dr. Adline shared the overall journey of her research group, ‘The Quorum Sensing Lab’, and focused on contributions her group has made towards organising international conferences and workshops and industrial collaborations. For this, her group has received extramural funding from ICMR, DST, DBT, DRDO, and CSIR. In her talk, Adline shared the importance of tie-ups and collaborations in the advancement of their research agenda. While she has regularly interfaced with various companies and research institutes, one of her key collaborative partnerships (with Dr. Prasanna Neelakantan from The University of Hong Kong) enabled MHRD-SPARC funding for 2 years and student exchange programs. More recently, a partnership with industry has led to the formation of a new start-up, AI (Anti-Infectives), which focuses on using AI-assisted development of anti-infective therapeutics.

Biofilm problems and solutions in CAUTI, an industrial perspective: Dr. Milind Choudhari (Founder & CEO, WeInnovate Biosolutions Pvt. Ltd)

The CEO of WeInnovate Biosolutions Pvt. Ltd, Dr. Milind Choudhari described the company’s recently developed product, silver-impregnated catheters to prevent Catheter Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI), a very common biofilm infection and complication of long-term hospital stay. WeInnovate Biosolutions has developed SilvoguardTM, a broad-spectrum antimicrobial catheter for preventing CAUTI. In doing so, the company serves as an excellent example of a biofilm-based start-up industry, focusing on an important and imminent consequence of hospital stays and hospital-acquired infections.

Biofilm-related scientific and health challenges in India: Dr. Deepti Jain (Associate Professor, Regional Centre for Biotechnology) and Lt. Col. Mahima Lall (Professor, Armed Forces Medical College)

In this discussion, Dr. Deepti Jain highlighted some key questions related to biofilm regulation currently being addressed in her laboratory, while Dr. Mahima Lall described her experiences with detecting and treating with biofilms in clinical settings. The important takeaway was that biofilm research is an emerging field in India and requires multidisciplinary approaches with individuals from various fields such as basic sciences, mathematical modelling, drug discovery and engineering. Further, given that biofilms are a leading cause of antibiotic resistance in clinics, this multipronged approach should endeavour to bridge the gap between clinicians and researchers. Notably, there is a need to focus these collaborations towards development of standard protocols and diagnostic methods, bacterial repositories, better model systems, and approaches to test combinatorial therapies and screen chemical libraries for anti-biofilm potential.

Challenges and solutions for biofilm research in India: Dr. Ashwini Chauhan (Assistant Professor, Tripura University)

Dr. Ashwini Chauhan opened his discussion acknowledging the limited awareness of biofilm research and its relevance in India, and the need to develop a synergistic model of networking, collaboration, and scientific exchange to fill this gap. Biofilm evangelism would entail a volunteer-driven model that organizes engaging events such as a biofilms hackathon, podcasts, journal clubs, laboratory troubleshooting, and trainings and internships. Biofilm stewardship on the other hand, would require multicentric support and funding towards building infrastructure, equipment, bio-repositories for biofilm-relevant research.

Building a biofilm society, National Biofilms Innovation Centre, U.K: Dr. Mark Richardson (CEO, National Biofilms Innovation Centre)

Discussing the NBIC working model, Dr. Mark Richardson stated that NBIC was established to focus on ‘the valley of death’, that exists between researchers and industry partners, and aims at striking dialogues between the two. For this, the centre procured a 5-year grant from UK’s national funding agency (UKRI) in two parts, the UK Innovate component funds companies and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) component funds academic researchers and laboratories. The society’s governance system consists of an international scientific advisory board, industrial advisory board, NBIC executive management team, and a non-executive board to monitor and deliver research and operational strategies. To conclude, Mark highlighted that NBIC-IBS engagements could provide a gateway to research and industry partnerships at both ends, and lead to long-term complementary connections.

Introduction to the Biofilm Journal: Dr. Tom Coenye (Senior Editor, Biofilm Journal)

Dr. Tom Coenye discussed the scope of the Biofilm journal and the different aspects of publishing in the journal. The Biofilm journal, started in 2019, focuses on publishing research on all aspects of biofilms. With four senior editors and 41 specialists across the globe, the diverse team at the journal spans different countries as well as different areas of research. The journal is indexed in PubMed, is open-access, and endeavours to offer waivers to authors with publication cost constraints. Apart from submitting their research work to the journal, biofilm researchers can volunteer to be reviewers by registering themselves in the editorial system.

Taking India Biofilms Society outside India: Dr. Joey Shepherd (Senior Lecturer, The University of Sheffield), Dr. Neha Jain (Assistant Professor, IIT Jodhpur) and Dr. Srinandan (Assistant Professor, SASTRA Deemed University)

This session focused and discussed ways to take IBS forward to engage with the international community. Dr. Shepherd shared her experience with initiating collaborative grants with Indian researchers, pointing out India-specific grants offered by international agencies such as Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) , etc. Dr. Srinandan stated the opportunity for biofilm researchers in India to apply for national funding opportunities, seeking to build international partnerships (for example, DST supported international projects). Dr. Neha Jain shared her experience of procuring international grants as a new Principal Investigator, pointing out that some grants may have specific conditions, such as, an agreement with the host lab to match the amount granted by the funding agency. In the open discussion, Dr. Ashwini Chauhan suggested the possibility of exploring short-term mobility grants and small collaborations to produce preliminary results, which could strengthen larger funding applications in the future.

Lab technique troubleshooting: led by Sahana Vasudevan (DST–INSPIRE fellow, SASTRA Deemed University)

This open discussion was focused on the challenges and considerations of designing biofilm experiments. For this, Dr. Ashwini suggested starting with standard reference methods, following which, the experiment could be modified and optimized. Important considerations for assessment of biofilms include selection of biofilm media for mono- and poly-microbial biofilms, substrate or surface choice, pH optimization, quantifying the initial inoculum of infection, and use of different staining techniques. The discussion underscored the need for developing standard protocols, applicable across laboratories, with examples of relevant work in this direction such as this and this.

Why should biofilms have all the fun? led by Arval Viji Elango and Parvathy Venkateswaran (Project students, SASTRA Deemed University)

The final session focused on team building using an engaging, virtual set of biofilm games. In the first game ‘Connexions’, the participants had to figure out a biofilm-related connection among four clues given in the form of images, GIFs, or audios (one of the clues included a track of Taylor Swift’s song, Tolerance). The second round, ‘What comes next?’, was an extension of the first one. The participants were presented with a sequence of clues, for example, the stages of biofilm formation or the steps in the protocol to identify biofilms, and were asked to identify what would come next in the sequence. The final round, ‘Turn it over!’, comprised of 16 squares, each with a hidden clue. Every participant was given a chance to reveal a grid, identify another related clue in the grid and organize four clues in a group with a common theme, for example, the different components of biofilms, horizontal gene transfer, antimicrobial resistance, and anti-biofilm strategies.

Future of India Biofilms Society

India Biofilms Society aims to be India’s foremost organization for biofilm-related research, industry partnerships, and citizen engagement. Towards this, the meeting brought forth other suggestions such as building databases with information on biofilm researchers across India and availability of high-end instrumentation facilities relevant to biofilm research in India. As the immediate next steps, building the framework of the formal society and continued engagement along the lines of scientific sessions, international seminar series, and conducting student-focused workshops, are on the agenda.

Edited by: Anjali Mahilkar

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