Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia, a biomedical engineer, professor at MIT, doctor, scientist, and multidimensional inventor, has been awarded the 2014 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for jaw dropping abilities that our brains cannot even begin to fathom. For one, she’s applying miniaturization to medicine, meaning she creates tiny technologies to tackle big human health issues like cancer and infectious disease. Beyond her prolific inventions, she is a role model for women and under-represented minorities in science and engineering.
With a Ph.D. from MIT and a M.D. from Harvard, Dr. Bhatia’s inventions span the areas of drug toxicity, tissue regeneration, cancer therapeutics, noninvasive diagnostics and infectious disease. Her most ground-breaking inventions, which are poised to impact human health in a profound way, include:
Detecting Cancer Through A Paper Urine Test
Dr. Bhatia designed ‘synthetic biomarkers’ to offer improved sensitivity in detecting diseases including cancer, thrombosis and fibrosis. The tests have been adapted for global use to support communities with low medical infrastructure, for example in areas that do not support costly cancer screening approaches such as mammograms and colonoscopy.
The incidence of non-communicable diseases in developing nations is on the rise with five million cancer deaths per year, accounted for by these regions. A majority of these patients have already advanced to incurable disease by first diagnosis highlighting the need for improved access to early detection methods.
Building A Liver From Scratch To Fight Infectious Disease
Liver cells begin to lose function within hours of being removed from the body. Current tools to predict toxicity use dysfunctional human cells that don’t accurately mimic a normally functioning liver. This has made it difficult for scientists to build an artificial organ for patients whose livers have failed, or to develop remedies to fight infections that grow in the liver, including malaria.
Dr. Bhatia and her team produced human micro-livers that model human drug metabolism, predict drug toxicity, and interact with human pathogens. The human micro liver can also replicate the life cycles of liver-stage human malaria for drug screening. The micro-liver can improve predictions of drug safety without risking patient exposure, help identify drugs that could eradicate malaria from its reservoir in the liver, and is a basis for an engineered liver that could one day replace the need for transplants in liver disease patients.
“Dr. Bhatia is a wonderful example of a woman who has used her brilliance, skill and creativity to radically improve the detection and treatment of serious global health issues.” – Dorothy Lemelson, Lemelson Foundation Chair
As the mother of two young girls, Dr. Bhatia is widely recognized as an advocate for youth in STEM fields. She founded and serves on several educational programs that assist students, specifically female students, to advance in STEM education, including serving as an advisor to the MIT Society of Women Engineers, chairing the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) Diversity committee, and serving as the faculty advisor to KEYs, an outreach organization that she helped establish in 1993 that aims to instill young girls with curiosity about science and engineering.
Brava to this awesome role model and inspiring woman EVERYONE should know!