September 9, 2014
Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia, biomedical engineer and faculty member at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, is the recipient of the 2014 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. Bhatia is recognized for designing and commercializing miniaturized technologies with applications to improve human health. The Lemelson-MIT Prize, celebrating its 20th year, honors outstanding mid-career inventors improving the world through technological invention and demonstrating a commitment to mentorship in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Bhatia is a multidimensional inventor, with a Ph.D. from MIT and a M.D. from Harvard, who is poised to impact human health as an engineer, doctor and scientist. Her collaborative ability to identify and solve clinical problems by connecting miniaturization to medicine is exemplified by Bhatia’s passion for applying high-tech solutions to under-resourced settings globally. Bhatia’s creative portfolio of inventions addresses complex problems in the areas of drug toxicity, tissue regeneration, cancer therapeutics, noninvasive diagnostics and infectious disease.
This is the second consecutive year, and third overall, in which a Koch Institute faculty member has been awarded the prize. Dr. Angela Belcher, W.M. Keck Professor of Energy, received the prize in 2013, and Dr. Robert S. Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor, received the prize in 1998. This also is only the fourth time an MIT faculty member has received the prize in its 20-year history.
A snapshot of the diversity and impact of Bhatia’s work includes:
Detecting cancer through a paper urine test
Bhatia and her team are tackling limitations of the growing biomarker industry with a focus on increased accuracy of disease detection. She designed ‘synthetic biomarkers’ to offer improved sensitivity in detecting diseases including cancer, thrombosis and fibrosis.
The approach uses nanoparticles to deliver enzyme substrates to diseased tissue through a shot, creating synthetic biomarkers that shed in urine and are read in a simple paper-based urine test. 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 mammogram 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. Bhatia is developing this platform for commercialization with support of the Koch Institute and Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.
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.
Bhatia and her team produced human microlivers that model human drug metabolism, predict drug toxicity and interact with human pathogens. The human microliver she developed can also replicate the life cycle of liver-stage human malaria for drug screening, an application of this platform that is being developed further in collaboration with the Broad Institute with support from the Gates Foundation. The microliver 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.
Bhatia’s focus on translation to the clinic demonstrates her commitment to improving human health. Bhatia, in partnership with her students and post-doctoral associates, pursues all available paths to commercialization, from licensing to existing companies, to co-founding startups, supporting student-led startups and pursuing industrial collaborations. These efforts have led to the launch of ten companies and more than 70 products. She is currently a co-founder of Hepregen, offering diverse lines of HepatoPac® products for drug development and toxicity testing, and Zymera, a nanocrystal technology for preclinical in vivo imaging and molecular detection.
“Bhatia has amplified the impact of her inventions through the collaboration of diverse teams that tackle complex problems,” said Josh Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “She cultivates ideas with creative individuals and focuses her team on grand challenges that require long-term scientific discovery to ultimately engineer inventive ways to improve lives of patients around the world.”
Bhatia’s lab is housed within the Koch Institute, and she also is a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, a senior associate member at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and holds an appointment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She is the John J. (1929) and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) at MIT.
She is also a leader, inspiring role model and passionate advocate for diversity in science and engineering. Bhatia founded the Biomedical Engineering Society Diversity Committee and advises the MIT Society of Women Engineers, a group which oversees Keys to Empowering Youth, an outreach organization that Bhatia helped establish that aims to instill young girls with curiosity about science and engineering.
“My husband, Jerry, always believed that it was critical to highlight and encourage inventors dedicated to improving the human condition,” said Dorothy Lemelson, Lemelson Foundation chair. “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. We are proud to recognize her as this year’s Lemelson-MIT Prize winner.”
Seeking Nominees for 2015 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize
The Lemelson-MIT Program is now seeking nominations for the 2015 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. Please contact the Lemelson-MIT Program at email@example.com for more information or go to http://lemelson.mit.edu/awards/lemelson-mit-prize.
ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
Celebrating invention, inspiring youth
The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.
Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the School of Engineering at MIT, an institution with a strong ongoing commitment to creating meaningful opportunities for K-12 STEM education.
ABOUT THE LEMELSON FOUNDATION
The Lemelson Foundation uses the power of invention to improve lives, by inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors and invention based enterprises to promote economic growth in the US and social and economic progress for the poor in developing countries. Established by prolific US inventor Jerome Lemelson and his wife Dorothy in 1992, to date the Foundation has provided or committed more than $175 million in grants and PRIs in support of its mission. For more information, visit http://lemelson.org.