Understanding the skin digital twin
It was around 2013 that regulatory authorities worldwide imposed strict restrictions on testing cosmetics and their ingredients on animals.
This development led to the ideation and conceptualization of a digital twin of the human skin, a unique invention by TCS Research.
“The digital twin of human skin is developed based on a concept called ‘multiscale modeling’ which mimics the skin’s physiochemical nature,” explains 32-year-old Rakesh Gupta—a budding scientist at TCS Research.
Rakesh’s team has been credited for developing microscopic models of the human skin’s layers which enable in-silico testing of various drug and cosmetic formulations. The invention has also been found useful in the designing and testing of nanomaterials for other healthcare applications.
In recognition of this work, Rakesh was conferred the INAE Young Engineer Award in December 2019, and TCS Young Scientist Award in August 2020.
Molecular behavior is fascinating
Rakesh joined TCS Research in 2013, where he worked in the biological and physical sciences research space.
Prior to joining TCS Research, his academic interests were toward computational modeling and simulation, with a focus on molecular dynamic simulations of charge interfaces, among others.
“I had to learn new domains, tools, and techniques, while on the job. The imposition of regulations on the use of animals in cosmetic testing and the scope of scientific research in the skin biophysics space is what drew my attention to the subject,” Rakesh says.
“I was always fascinated with the molecular world and curious about how tiny arrangements of molecules lead to astonishing macroscopic behavior,” he added. It was this fascination with molecular behavior that led him to pursue a Master’s in chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, after gaining a Bachelor’s in chemical engineering from National Institute of Technology, Jaipur, India.
Rakesh began exploring the world of ions and molecules to understand their behavior in nano pores and to design better super capacitors. “I always wanted to know how research would be different in industry as compared to academia. And what inspired me to join TCS Research was the work by some of its senior scientists, which I was following very closely while at IISc,” he says, explaining why he chose to work as a scientist at TCS Research.
A microscopic model
Rakesh and team embarked on a bold journey to create a digital twin of the human skin to reduce, and ultimately (if possible) try and eliminate animal testing for pharmaceutical and cosmetic products.
Despite setbacks, the team worked hard on their research for over a year and a half. Non-availability of prior experimental data in the public domain related to testing on real human skin was among their biggest challenges.
“It was frustrating when things were not going in the right direction, but we had this hope and belief that if we were to succeed, it would be of immense contribution not only to the scientific community and TCS Research, but also to millions of people,” Rakesh says.
The team validated models through minimal data obtained from scientific literature after extensive research.
They also collaborated with international laboratories such as Harvard University and Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany.
Rakesh’s first paper and patent on the digital twin of human skin was published and filed in 2015-16. It featured a microscopic transport model of the skin’s top layer. In 2017, the design was further detailed, and a full multiscale model was presented both in terms of the paper and the patent.
Rakesh states that the finding is a milestone for the team and that they are proud of the recognition and appreciation it has received.
Digital unravelling of the SARS-CoV-2 virus
Rakesh’s curiosity piqued at the onset of the pandemic in 2020 when following the discussions on virus detection on the social media handles of various global research laboratories.
His team computationally designed nanomaterials that capture the natural phenomena of binding of SARS-CoV-2 virus to human lung cells and could be utilized for biosensing applications.
The invention proved useful at a time when laboratories were shut, and many internationally acclaimed groups were still tracing the characteristics of the virus. The research for proposing strategies to develop therapeutics and cure too were in the nascent stage.
Apart from research, Rakesh loves cooking.
He applies his culinary skills to biological research in an interesting way. One of the assignments that he’s working on is to explore human taste. The team is applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to biological systems to develop new tastant molecules.
“We can quantify the mass, length, distance, and time, but taste is always relative. How one designs new tastants for making flavorful products is not so straight forward and that’s where we are contributing to make it simple,” states Rakesh.
A scientist and an engineer
Rakesh’s work has been published in several international journals.
Over 20 international journal articles have been published on digital skin and seven patents granted in various geographies.
Rakesh Gupta at the showcase of digital skin innovation through virtual reality at TEDx Amsterdam, 2018.
He has also presented his innovations at many technological forums and TEDx events to audiences as diverse as investors, academicians, and CXO-level decision-makers. Finding simple yet effective solutions to a complicated problem, and to “think like a scientist but build (solutions) like an engineer” is what keeps Rakesh inspired in his research journey.