Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
Ali Khademhosseini has won first prize in the doctoral thesis category of the 2007 BMW Science Award competition. The award was presented to six young scientists, three in the doctoral and three in the bachelor's/master's thesis categories, in a Dec. 6 ceremony at the Deutsches Museum in Munich.
Khademhosseini, an assistant professor of medicine and health sciences and technology at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, won for his 2005 dissertation, written under the supervision of Institute Professor Robert Langer in MIT's Department of Biological Engineering. His research focused on miniaturizing tissue cultures with the help of microtechnology and nanotechnology.
Drawing on knowledge from the field of microsystems technology, Khademhosseini has succeeded in developing a new set of methods that allows scientists not only to miniaturize laboratory cell cultures, but also to control them with a high level of accuracy.
Micro-electromechanical systems, or MEMS for short, is the name given to the technology developed by the electronics industry that allows micro-switches, sensors and other control elements to be combined on a silicon chip. Khademhosseini has applied the principles of MEMS production processes to the field of biological research. His BioMEMS are miniaturized laboratories in microchip form, and enable him to monitor and control with great accuracy the micro-environment and growth conditions of cells.
"This approach allows us to research a large number of fundamental cell biology issues, and especially those that concern the complex construction of biological systems in tissue cultures," said Khademhosseini.
As this technology allows cell-growth conditions in the laboratory to be controlled very precisely, it might be used one day to ensure that stem cells become exactly the cell type required for a given therapeutic purpose.
The scientific award of the BMW Group is given out every two years and rewards outstanding graduate work produced by young academics worldwide. This year, the award-winning entries competed against a total of 241 submissions from 25 countries and 22 different fields for a 70,000 euro prize.