WASHINGTON: An Indian-American scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has developed artificial human microlivers for drug testing, has won a prestigious 250,000 dollars Heinz award for her work in tissue engineering and disease detection.
Sangeeta Bhatia at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been named the recipient of the 2015 Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy, and Employment.
The award includes an unrestricted prize of 250,000 dollars. The Heinz Awards annually recognise individuals for their extraordinary contributions to arts and humanities; environment; human condition; public policy; and technology, the economy, and employment.
“This type of recognition helps to bring science into the public eye so that everyone can appreciate the dedication and innovation that is happening in laboratories all over the country,” said Ms Bhatia, the John J and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Ms Bhatia’s team has pioneered the fabrication of artificial human microlivers, which are being used by many biopharmaceutical companies to test the toxicity of drug candidates.
Ms Bhatia is also using microlivers in the lab to model malaria infection and test drugs that can eradicate malaria parasites completely – even the parasite reservoirs that remain in the liver after a patient’s symptoms subside.
She hopes to eventually develop implantable liver tissue as a complement or substitute for whole-organ transplant.
In her study of cancer and the tumour microenvironment, Ms Bhatia’s team has developed synthetic biomarkers that are paving the way for simple, low-cost cancer diagnostics.
Their engineered nanoparticles interact with tumour proteins in the body and release hundreds of these biomarkers, which can be detected in urine.
One application relies on a paper-strip urine test that can reveal the presence of cancer within minutes in mouse models.
Ms Bhatia is also recognised for her passion in promoting the advancement of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
While a graduate student at MIT, Ms Bhatia helped start Keys to Empowering Youth (KEYs), a programme that engages middle school girls with science and engineering through hands-on activities and mentorship from MIT students.
“I’m hopeful that the visibility associated with this award can inspire young girls by showing them what a rewarding profession – and life – STEM can yield,” Ms Bhatia said.
Ms Bhatia will receive her award on May 13 at a ceremony in Pittsburgh. She will be honoured along with the Heinz Award recipients in the four other categories.
The recipients include Roz Chast, a best-selling illustrator and cartoonist (arts and humanities); Frederica Perera, an environmental health researcher at Columbia University (environment); William McNulty and Jacob Wood, founders of Team Rubicon (human condition); and Aaron Wolf, a geoscientist and professor at Oregon State University (public policy).