<figcaption> Credit: Photo: Jason Varney/varneyphoto.com</figcaption>
Credit: Photo: Jason Varney/varneyphoto.com

Although her research interests run the gamut from cell and molecular biology to nanotechnology and biomedical engineering, one organ attracts the bulk of Sangeeta Bhatia?s attention: the liver. Her mother, who grew up in Bombay, told her that the philosophers of ancient Greece and India considered the liver the ?center of everything.? Now the director of the Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bhatia shares that view.

Bhatia is working on engineering healthy, implantable liver tissue as an alternative for the tens of thousands of people currently awaiting liver transplants. The first challenge is to culture liver cells outside the body while preserving their functionality. ?Architecture is critical,? she says. ?If you arrange the cells properly, surrounding them with the right neighbors, you can create an environment and community that functions better.?

Borrowing techniques such as photolithography from the microchip industry, Bhatia...

Though years away from clinical use, the 15,000-cell tissue samples provide convenient drug-screening platforms. Bhatia?s MIT group has used the biosynthetic tissue, laid out on 24-well plates, to test about a dozen liver drugs for toxicity and drug-drug?interactions. She?s also investigating the use of nanoparticles, such as fluorescent ?quantum dots,? to transport cancer drugs to the liver and other destinations.1

As a junior faculty member at the University of California, San Diego, Bhatia and colleagues demonstrated the technique, delivering q-dots coated with lung-targeting peptides to the lungs of mice. She?s also evaluated q-dot toxicity to show how coatings such as bovine serum albumin can render the particles harmless.2

While pursuing these and other projects, Bhatia tries to be a role model for her 14 graduate students and postdocs, demonstrating that science takes hard work yet need not be all-consuming. She?s engineered a life outside the lab with her daughter and her husband, who?s a Harvard biophysicist.

When she was a girl, Bhatia?s role model was Marie Curie, a two-time Nobel Prize winner and the first female laureate. Bhatia is actively working to spark women?s interest in science and engineering. And she recently gave her two-year-old daughter a Marie Curie doll to reinforce the notion that women can make great contributions?a lesson Bhatia learned from her own parents. Although her daughter is fond of the doll, it?s still too early to tell whether she?s bought in, Bhatia says. ?She?ll have access to some pretty cool science fair projects, if she wants.?

Age: 37

Current Post: Joined MIT faculty in 2005 as an associate professor in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and in MIT?s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Representative Publications:

1. M.E. Akerman et al., ?Nanocrystal targeting in vivo,? ?Proc Natl Acad Sci, 99:12617?21, 2002. (cited in 143 papers) 2. A.M. Derfus et al., ?Probing the cytotoxicity of semiconductor quantum dots,? Nano Lett, 4:11?8, 2004. (cited in 73 papers)

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