Hometown: Lexington, Mass.
Title: Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Co-founder of Hepregen Inc.
Can you tell the readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?
At MIT, I am the director of the Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies. Our laboratory is focused on the applications of micro- and nanotechnology in tissue repair and regeneration. Our long-term goals are to improve cellular therapies for liver disease, develop microtechnology tools to systematically study living cells and design multifunctional nanoparticles for cancer applications. We are involved in a multidisciplinary effort to develop nanomaterials as tools for biological studies and as multifunctional agents for cancer therapies. By bridging the unique electromagnetic properties of nanomaterials with advances in bioconjugate chemistry, photonics, and phage display we aim to develop "intelligent" systems for tumor therapy and biomolecular detection. Our interest centers around nanoparticles and nanoporous materials that can be designed to perform complex tasks such as home to a tumor, sense changes in cells and tissues, enhance imaging, and trigger the release of a therapeutic payload.
I trained at Brown, MIT, Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital. I was a member of the bioengineering department at University of California at San Diego for six years. I am a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and of the American Society for Clinical Investigation. I co-authored the first undergraduate textbook on tissue engineering and am a frequent advisor to governmental organizations on nanobiotechnology, biomedical microsystems and tissue engineering.
I also co-founded two startup companies and have 15 issued or pending patents and have worked in the industry at Pfizer, Genetics Institute, ICI Pharmaceuticals and Organogenesis.
Hepregen, which was founded in 2007 and funded in 2008, is focused on working with its pharmaceutical and biotechnology partners to utilize and validate the micropattern co-culture platform, now called HepatoPac. Beyond the immediate applications in preclinical drug development to improve predictivity with regard to drug metabolism and toxicity, HepatoPac has wide potential as an enabling platform with transformative applications in drug discovery. At Hepregen, we imagine creating an in vitro liver disease model, using the platform with stem cells, or being able to develop technologies from HepatoPac which can predict which patients should avoid certain treatments due to their genetic susceptibility to hepatoxicity. The commercialization of novel bioengineered solutions to help the pharmaceutical industry develop economically viable, highly efficacious and safer drugs is well underway at Hepregen — a manifestation of a scientist's dream turned into reality.
I have a lot of hats that I wear and running the lab takes the most time. I am most interested in developing ideas and tools in the lab and finding ways they can be borrowed for applications in medicine.
To which charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?
I am very interested in getting young girls getting more involved in math and science because there is not enough. I have been in science since I was a little girl and it has been such an important part of my life.
At MIT, I am involved with Keys to Empowering Youths, which is organized by MIT's Society of Women Engineers. KEYs is a motivational program that brings 11-13 year old girls together with MIT women students to participate in workshops held periodically throughout the year. The goal of KEYs is to empower young women by promoting their self-confidence, increasing their self-esteem, and unveiling opportunities for their potential career paths. Girls are encouraged to take a closer look at science and its impact on society. Workshops such as "Moving Beyond Stereotypes," "Women's Health and Medicine," and "The Environment and You," are designed to excite girls about science and inspire them to think about their lives in new ways. By showing girls what possibilities exist in their own lives, KEYs strives to help them develop their own goals and dreams. KEYs was initiated at MIT in 1993, working toward the following goals: promoting self-confidence; increasing self-esteem; unveiling opportunities for potential career paths; promoting interest in science, particularly among ethnic minorities/under-served girls; providing positive role models; and encouraging direct action.
My own two daughters came to the last KEYs event at MIT, which was really nice. It was a kind of circle of life moment.
What are your hobbies and interests?
I enjoy my annual "girls' weekend" with my college friends, yoga, book club and travel. With my family, I enjoy the typically family activities and specifically things such as hiking and sports.
In what way do you feel you have most positively influenced the local community and/or your company and professional field?
For my work, I have been awarded the David and Lucile Packard Fellowship given to "the nation's most promising young professors in science and engineering," the MIT TR100 Young Innovators Award, the Global Indus Technovator Award, and been named one of Massachusetts' "Women to Watch."
When you are an educator the thing that you tend to be most proud of is the people you educate, sort of paying it forward, because they will go on and do the same. I also try to work hard on being a visible role model of a woman engineer that is married with kids. When I was training there was not many of those and there are still not many.
I also do my best to be visible in the community because I firmly believe you can't be a role model if people can't see you.