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In this series of Featured Labs, we will invite an ISB member from a Economically Developing Country (EDC) for an interview. Each issue, a different researcher.

Dr. Ganesh Bapat from the Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS) in India won the Developing Countries Grant Competition (DCGC) in 2021. 


“I am Dr. Ganesh Bapat, faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at BITS Pilani Goa Campus, India. I transitioned from a postdoc to a faculty position in India during Covid-19 global pandemic. After joining my current position, I started working on the Design of a Neck Exoskeleton to prevent and reduce neck pain problems. However, many funding calls were postponed/ became irregular due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In such a scenario, I submitted this project for the DCGC-2021 grant during the 28th Conference of the ISB held online and secured the same (USD 1000). The grant helped me purchase the consumables and design and fabricate the Exoskeleton's preliminary prototypes. Based on this preliminary development, I secured more significant funding of 52 lakh Indian rupees (~63000 USD) from the Department of Health Research (DHR), Government of India for the same project. We now have a working prototype (version-3) of the neck exoskeleton. We are testing the same for efficacy in daily working conditions. I could not present the results of this project during ISB-2023 as we are in the process of filing a patent. However, I look forward to presenting the exciting outcomes of this research during the next ISB-2025 in Stockholm. I want to thank ISB for awarding me the DCGC grant, especially during the difficult times of the global pandemic, which helped me continue my Biomechanics research in India and secure more significant funding."


Check the Featured Lab series interview with Dr. Ganesh below:


  1. Introduction and Background:


  • Can you provide a brief overview of your research?

Dr. Ganesh Bapat: I am a translational researcher working in the field of Biomechanics, Assistive and Medical Devices. My research focuses on investigating the physiological and biomechanical aspects of human gait, musculoskeletal disorders, and physical disability. The overarching goal is to assist people with walking gait impairments/physical disabilities/ musculoskeletal disorders using assistive technology and therapy. I am currently working as a faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, Goa Campus, India.


  • What inspired you to establish your lab and delve into biomechanics within an EDC?

Dr. Ganesh Bapat: Two individuals have played a significant role as my research role models. First is my doctoral advisor, Professor Sujatha Srinivasan, at IIT Madras. The second is Dr. Abhay Bang, a doctor, public health researcher, and Gandhian social worker, whom I've never had the chance to meet but have extensively read his books and articles. Both of these amazing individuals have inspired me to use my research skills to positively impact the lives of people in India. Additionally, my education in India has been made possible by leading government institutions funded by taxpayers' money. This creates a sense of responsibility within me to give back to the people and the society that have supported my education. These reasons made me return after completing my postdoctoral research in the USA and establish a biomechanics research lab in India. 


  1. Research Focus and Innovation:


  • Could you describe some examples of cutting-edge research projects or areas of study your lab is currently engaged in?

Dr. Ganesh Bapat: Presently, my lab is working on designing an exoskeleton for neck injuries and neck pain problems. This project was initially supported through the Delsys De Luca foundation grant and the ISB-DCGC award. We're also researching ways to tackle thermal discomfort issues associated with orthotic devices and exoskeletons. Another key area of our research delves into pistoning and joint misalignment issues that can occur with orthotic devices and exoskeletons. We're focused on finding innovative solutions to minimize these problems, ultimately making these assistive devices more effective and comfortable. My team is also working on an industry-funded project related to designing knee braces for post-surgical rehabilitation. In essence, my lab's research spans various aspects of applied biomechanics, with a strong emphasis on designing assistive devices, addressing comfort and compliance issues, and infusing technological innovations to enhance the quality of life for individuals with physical disability.


  • What unique challenges or opportunities does your lab face due to the economic context, and how do you approach these factors innovatively?

Dr. Ganesh Bapat: Being a Biomechanist in India presents both fulfilling and demanding experiences. Experimental biomechanics needs expensive equipment and infrastructure, which is challenging to set up in a developing country. Additionally, I've personally encountered biases against research from developing countries when it comes to getting published in international journals or conferences. The Open Access (OA) fees associated with many journals are often beyond the means of researchers in EDCs, limiting our publication options since many journals are shifting towards OA models. While many such challenges exist, I look towards those challenges as an opportunity. Being in EDC, I get to solve problems of unique health issues or patient populations that can provide valuable insights. The lack of expensive equipment encourages us to create custom setups and design innovative experiments to validate research hypotheses. Furthermore, as biomechanics gains recognition as a breakthrough science of the 21st century, I'm witnessing growing support from Indian funding agencies and my institution for research in this field.


  1. Collaborations, Facilities and Resources: 


  • Can you provide insights into the facilities, equipment, and resources available in your lab that contribute to your research endeavors?

Dr. Ganesh Bapat: I have access to mechanical fabrication facilities through the mechanical department workshop. We also have a university-wide scientific instrumentation center that provides access to material testing and characterization facilities. Additionally, I have 3D printers and a 3D scanner in my lab to rapidly prototype assistive devices. We have recently purchased the interface pressure mat to study interface dynamics in wearable exoskeletons. We also have a Delsys 2-sensor EMG module from De Luca Foundation grant. A few other experimental set-ups are custom-built by my students. My lab is supported by a dedicated team of students with backgrounds in engineering, spanning bachelor's, master's, and doctoral students, who contribute significantly to our research efforts.


  • Have you established international collaborations or partnerships with other research institutions?

Dr. Ganesh Bapat: It’s been three years since I returned to India, and one year was consumed in the Covid pandemic. Most of my time so far has been invested in securing grants to establish my lab, research program, and teaching responsibilities. Hence, I have not approached international collaborators yet. I have made collaborations with hospitals and rehabilitation centers for research within India. Now, I am open to international collaborations as well.


  • How do you optimize your resources to achieve impactful outcomes despite potential economical constraints?

Dr. Ganesh Bapat: Despite modest lab facilities compared to those in developed countries and economic constraints, we maximize our impact by concentrating on translational research and product development, aligning with the mission of Indian government funding agencies. While we haven't delved into some advanced basic biomechanics areas due to financial limitations, we aim to expand our research horizons through collaborations with both national and international researchers, thus compensating for resource limitations.


  1. Future Directions:


  • What are your lab's aspirations for the future?

Dr. Ganesh Bapat: I would like the Biomechanics Research Group at BITS Pilani Goa to spearhead the development of medical devices, therapies, or rehabilitation techniques based on biomechanical principles. The lab should also contribute to public health initiatives by researching biomechanics related to musculoskeletal disorders, vascular diseases, and other conditions prevalent in India. I personally would like to see the global commercialization of novel assistive/medical devices developed in our lab. In the next five years, we aspire to become a center of excellence in biomechanics research, education and training in India.


  • What are your suggestions and wishes regarding ISB’s support of biomechanists from EDCs?

Dr. Ganesh Bapat: ISB is already doing a great job by supporting biomechanists from EDCs through EDC travel grants, developing countries grants etc. Beyond that, I feel ISB can also think of implementing:

- Reduced/No fees for OA journals that are affiliated with ISB

- Mentoring program for young scientists in EDC

- ISB supported international exchange program for researchers from EDC to provide them exposure to the world-class Biomechanics labs

- Conducting ISB-supported regional conferences/Biomechanics workshops etc., to promote Biomechanics in EDC


  • What advice would you give to other researchers or aspiring biomechanists from EDCs? 

Dr. Ganesh Bapat: Instead of offering advice, I'd like to share my perspective. I see conducting research in developing countries as an opportunity rather than a disadvantage. There is a wealth of challenges to address for our own people, so there's no shortage of research problems to tackle. If we can discover scientific solutions to these issues cost-effectively using limited resources, that's "frugal engineering." These resource-efficient solutions can then be implemented in developed countries too. Working in economically developing countries may mean having limitations on resources and funding, but it certainly doesn't limit our capacity to generate innovative ideas. It's important to remember that "Great ideas can come from anywhere, so never restrict your imagination."


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