Biotechnology and Healthcare Category

Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia

Our natural inclination is to draw boundaries, to contain nature's complexity in a way that keeps the natural and synthetic separate. Integrating steel with sinew has ever been problematic. Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia is one of the few who pursue the froth of complexity at the intersection of interdisciplinary boundaries, integrating the natural and synthetic, ranging up and down a spectrum from nanoscale to microscale.

Dr. Bhatia’s lab focuses on the integration of micro- and nanotechnology tools with live cells and biomolecules for diverse applications, including biosensing, stem cell biology, and tumor targeting. Much of her work is geared toward hepatic tissue engineering, and understanding the role of the cellular microenvironment in hepatocyte function and differentiation. This research has implications for understanding liver disease pathophysiology, tissue engineering, rational drug design and more effective therapies.

Sangeeta Bhatia is not only an innovator in the laboratory. She has been recognized for her work with dozens of awards, including multiple fellowships, honor societies, and an NSF career award. Her prolific writings include a long list of books, journal articles, patents and talks. Last year she was honored as one of the hundred most outstanding innovators of the year by the MIT Technology Review. Though she is active on several scientific and clinical advisory boards and maintains a full research schedule, Dr. Bhatia also finds time to teach and get involved in the lives of young people. She has received standing ovations for her riveting class lectures, and is heavily involved in hands-on engineering outreach programs for young girls.

Dr. Bhatia holds a bachelors degree in biomedical engineering from Brown, a masters and doctorate from MIT and a medical degree from Harvard. Currently a professor at UCSD, she is coming to MIT this spring with her husband Jagesh Shah and daughter Anjali.

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Dr. Ravi Kamath

Ravi Kamath has been instrumental in developing new methods for high-throughput functional genomics in C. elegans that have dramatically accelerated the pace at which the functions of genes can be identified. Using these methods, Dr. Kamath and his colleagues have discovered functions for over 1,700 genes important for development, growth, and behavior, and through subsequent collaborations with other scientists, they have uncovered functions for over 700 additional genes that regulate more subtle biological phenomena including obesity, aging, and cancer. Altogether, this work has more than tripled the number of C. elegans genes with known functions and has identified many potential novel drug targets.

Dr. Kamath, who was born in the U.S. and is now 28 years old, has completed an A.B. in Biochemical Sciences from Harvard College, a Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of Cambridge (U.K.), an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and postdoctoral work in Genetics in the U.K. and U.S. He is currently continuing his training in Internal Medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. He has been the recipient of numerous national and international awards, including a prize from the journal Science recognizing him as one of six top young scientists in molecular biology from all regions of the world. He has published more than 30 papers in leading scientific and medical journals, including several in the prestigious journals Nature and Science, and he holds multiple patents and patents pending from over 15 years of work in molecular biology.

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Dr. Vamsi Mootha

Mitochondria serve as energy powerhouses for the cell and are implicated in a variety of human diseases that often arise from altered patterns of expression or interaction in the complex, poorly understood mitochondrial proteome. Dr. Vamsi Mootha maps this intricate web of interactions to his own complex background in clinical medicine, biochemistry, computer science and mathematics, designing new algorithms and techniques for understanding the role of mitochondria in human disease. By focusing on genomics, proteomics and computational tools, Dr. Mootha hopes to discover the genes that underlie human metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity and eventually develop new therapies. His highly coordinated approach has already led to the identification of many previously unknown mitochondrial proteins, and to new methods for identifying patterns of altered gene expression. Previous successes with rapid identification of disease genes in a fatal pediatric disorder have been augmented recently by a number of studies that focused on the treatment and understanding of diabetes.

Dr. Mootha received his undergraduate degrees in mathematics and computer science at Stanford University, where he graduated with highest honors. He received his M.D. from Harvard's HST program, doing thesis work on mitochondrial bioenergetics. After completing his clinical training in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Mootha joined the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research, where he recently completed a Howard Hughes postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Eric Lander. His research has been published in journals such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cell, and Nature Genetics. He is now an Assistant Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School; Assistant Professor of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital; Associate Member, Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Dr. Mootha recently received a $500,000 Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences from Burroughs Wellcome. Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Mootha was recognized with the "Genius" award, when he was named a MacArthur Fellow by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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Dr. Vijay Pande

Proteins are synthesized inside cells as linear strings of amino acids, but crucial to their function is the ability of these molecules to fold and assemble into structures of significant three-dimensional complexity. Incredibly, this process occurs both extremely rapidly -- on a microsecond time scale -- as well as in a highly reproducible fashion; multitudes of copies of a given protein in a cell will all fold to the same configuration. Prof. Vijay Pande is a pioneer in the field of understanding and modeling the processes that lead to protein folding, commonly considered a "holy grail" of computational biology. Amongst Prof. Pande's innovations is the Folding@home project at Stanford University, which harnesses the spare computing power of thousands of volunteers' computers through novel grid computing technologies and applies it to the difficult computational problems involved in creating detailed, atomistic models of protein folding.

Using technologies initially developed to investigate the protein folding problem, Prof. Pande's group has broadened its view to investigating RNA folding, protein-protein interactions, the interactions of lipid membranes, and a number of other problems. Prof. Pande's work, itself broad in scope, has yet broader potential applications, including both disease research and drug design.

Prof. Pande received his B.A. in Physics from Princeton University, and subsequently completed his Ph.D. in Physics at MIT. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his work as a researcher and for his skill as a teacher, including being named to the TR100 in 2002 and earning the Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar award in 2003.

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Dr. Ganesh Venkataraman

DNA and protein sequencing have been known to researchers for a while now. But it really took the pioneering work of Ganesh Venkataraman and his team to reveal the importance of sugar sequencing to the technological community. Initiated five years ago, this momentous endeavor of unraveling the structural complexity of polysaccharides, which is orders of magnitude greater than that of either DNA or proteins, was unheard of. The efforts also led to the launching of Momenta Pharmaceuticals, a company with a vision to apply the understanding of complex sugars to drug discovery and development.

Dr. Venkataraman is one of Momenta's scientific founders. It all started with his doctoral research at MIT where Dr. Venkataraman worked on indigeneous sugar-cutting scissors to understand sugar structure. Since then he has combined multi-disciplinary skills to employ bioinformatics and development of analytical models to finally design case-specific drugs for therapy. His work is being used in areas like accelerating drug discovery and development, heart by-pass surgery and cancer treatment. Apart from founding Momenta, he has also served as the Director of Bioinformatics for the Consortium for Functional Glycomics,a multi-million dollar NIH initiative to study the role of complex sugars in biology.

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