An 18-year-old Chennai-born girl has won this year’s A*Star Talent Search award in Singapore for her study of genetic heart disease “hypertrophic cardiomyopathy”. Vijayakumar Ragavi, now a Singaporean citizen, topped the list of 611 other students from secondary and tertiary institution, reported Tabla!, a Friday weekly for the Non-Resident Indians community here. She has been awarded cash prize, a sponsored trip to an overseas conference and a trophy as well as a certificate for winning the competition. Ragavi said she spent almost two years studying and preparing for her award-winning project on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. “It is estimated to be the most genetic heart disease in the world. People with the disease often suffer from arrhythmia induced sudden cardiac death,” said Ragavi.
Arrhythmia is a group of conditions where the heartbeat is irregular, too slow or too fast. At the talent search, Ragavi’s research focused on stem-cell technology, which allows for the detection of genetic disease through blood samples, rather than the typical method of performing cardiac biopsies. Such biopsies are extremely difficult procedures which entail taking a small piece of the heart so that it can be checked for genetic disease in the laboratory. Ragavi designed a humanised hypertrophic cardiomyopathy model that recaptulates the disease phenotype. The subsequent findings set the foundation for gaining insights into disease pathology and therapeutic intervention.
“I really didn’t expect to win. I was quite surprised since it was very unexpected, but I was happy that my parents were so proud of me,” Ragavi said. She will be pursuing a degree in biomedical science at an overseas university next year. “I want to become a researcher in future and thought this would be good exposure for me,” said the Year 6 student from National University of Singapore’s High School for Mathematics and Science. “I want to work in the field of stem cell and regenerative medicine,” she said. Her parents, Rajamanickkam Vijayakumar, who works at Hewlett-Packard, and home-maker Rajendran Gomathi, couldn’t be more proud. “She puts in a lot of effort for the research study and her efforts have paid off.” Gomathi was quoted as saying by Tabla!
A*STAR Talent Search is a 2006 initiative, rewarding students who have performed well in scientific research. It is part of the A*STAR Graduate Academy (AGA)’s Youth Science outreach to schools with the aim to inspire & sustain a passion in science in the young in Singapore.