When she decided to choose Biochemistry & Biotechnology as her majors back in 2012, she found that these subjects were quite uncommon compared to business-based majors like Economics, Accounting, Finance, etc. Unfortunately, very few people had sufficient ideas about life science related subjects and were clueless about the job opportunities in those fields, especially for women.
This is how Nusrat Rouf, a life sciences visionary who is aiming to revolutionise the maternal aspect of the healthcare sector, described her pursuit with biotech-related subjects when she started her undergraduate studies in North South University eight years ago.
With her start-up venture, Biomarker Systems (Biomasys), Nusrat has set her sights on bringing a miscarriage diagnostic device called "HealtiPreg" that facilitates early detection of biological conditions that may cause miscarriages and premature births - giving pregnant women a chance at preventing it.
"The device is targeted for over-the-counter purchase for ease of accessibility and will adopt the same one-time dip-and-peep functionality like a pregnancy test strip with further quantitative information displayed on the reader screen along with a synchronised, user-friendly app," Nusrat explained the device.
Biomasys' products are being developed using technology that applies artificial intelligence and novel protocols in biomarker detection for diagnosing conditions. HealtiPreg is designed to tackle the dual pernicious problem of maternal and child health by democratising access to diagnosis during the antenatal states of care. It will help to predict miscarriages and pre-term births which is a major issue of global concern.
One in a hundred women experience recurrent miscarriage in the UK, and about 60 percent of reported miscarriages occur in Africa and South Asia, and the aftermath may include heightened pregnancy-specific distress for mothers, respiratory distress, stunted neurobiological and behavioural development for premature children. With upwards of one in 10 pregnancies estimated to end in miscarriage, and about 15 million babies born preterm, these conditions are too prevalent and life-threatening to not have fully effective tools for early diagnosis.
Driven by artificial intelligence, the technology behind HealtiPreg offers the advantage of detecting several markers at the same time and predicting the cumulative effect of named causative markers present.
"Our solution saves the opportunity cost against the mother and child's health by giving expecting women the freedom to know what conditions may develop in the term of their pregnancy beforehand," Nusrat informed, adding that the diagnostic procedure will influence antenatal management practices in hospitals in the long run.
The Biomasys team brings together unique perspectives that are still absent in contemporary biotechnology. Nusrat added, "There is a paucity of women, and especially people of colour, in the space. By centring the experience of the underserved health communities around the world, we are poised to reaching the set accessibility targets."
Nusrat is the chief technology officer at Biomasys, which she co-founded with two of her friends back in May after graduating from the University of Manchester with a masters degree in Biotechnology & Enterprise. She is responsible for the device's design and leads the product engineering team.
Her inspiration to execute her passions and turn them into reality came from working in an Enterprise team while pursuing the degree.
"I was initially discouraged to pursue a career in STEM and I was even told that I would not have any job once I graduate. Despite all the obstacles, I kept on pursuing my passion with full support from my family and I am very grateful and glad to have done so," Nusrat continued.
"I had my graduation ceremony last December and ever since I have been actively taking part in business competitions, bagged jobs and internship offers," the successful young entrepreneur told The Business Standard.
Recognising the need in the country for improved healthcare and better diagnostics, with the attendant benefits that would reduce unemployment, it became obvious to Nusrat that pursuing a career in biotechnology can help her solve the healthcare and economic challenges Bangladesh faces on the daily.
Biomasys' first product "HealtiPreg" is dedicated to improving antenatal care all over the world and Nusrat's team plans to invent similar products like this in the future. Nusrat also plans to create job opportunities for Bangladeshi women in STEM fields through her current and upcoming ventures.
When asked about the future of Biomasys, Nusrat said, "With our disruptive IP-protectable technology, Biomasys is set to become a leader in the domain of pregnancy surveillance. We plan to provide diagnostic services to the healthcare facilities while putting our device on the market with complimentary access to an app for health-conscious consumers."
Biomasys and its founders are also open to collaborate with the governments interested in combating the scourge of poor maternal health.
Nusrat opined that devices like "HealtiPreg" are ideal for rural settings of developing countries like Bangladesh where there is a lack of medical facilities and health professionals while elaborating Biomasys' future plans.
"HealtiPreg" is being developed jointly in the UK and Bangladesh.
Speaking further on the topic, Nusrat said, "The plan for this year is to raise pre-seed funding for research, successfully validate the prototype, and launch a viable product in 2021."
It is unfortunate that women have to work much harder and go extra miles to achieve something commendable in every field - be it an opportunity to work in a research project or striving for a promotion at a job. This is due to the existence of high level of gender discrimination in our society.
To top it off, friendly work environments in many workplaces in Bangladesh, including some labs, are stagnant. In many jobs, women's work efficiency and sincerity are often judged based on their appearance - giving rise to the bias.
Moreover, many employers have a misconception that women are not professional enough albeit there are plenty of examples of women excelling in every field of work. Nusrat stated that these are also some of the common challenges faced by many of her female colleagues.
She added, "I'm grateful for the smooth journey so far as I have been lucky enough to get the opportunity to work in women-friendly lab environments and have extremely supportive supervisors in both Bangladesh and the UK."
Nusrat encourages young women who are passionate about biotech but are unsure about the opportunities the concentration provides in the Bangladeshi context to pursue a career in this field. "I had similar concerns while choosing it as a career, but things are changing now and this pandemic has taught everyone the importance of STEM-related subjects. We should all come forward and improve the research and healthcare facilities in Bangladesh."