Mira Moufarrej is a PhD candidate in bioengineering at Stanford University where she has also earned a master’s degree in computer science. Mira invented early screening tests that may change the standard of practice for prenatal care by predicting preeclampsia and preterm birth, serious conditions that are potentially fatal for mother or baby. The tests measure RNA, a messenger molecule, using a simple blood sample that can be taken in an outpatient setting. The blood test to predict preeclampsia identifies risk in the first trimester, when non-invasive medical options such as aspirin may prevent the condition entirely. The blood test predicting preterm birth identifies this dangerous outcome two months ahead of time, giving expectant mothers and their doctors key information for ongoing monitoring, planning, and identification of appropriate medical options. Mira also invented a third blood test to predict a mother’s due date with comparable accuracy to ultrasound, and a research pipeline to further this important work — a pipetting approach for small labs that reduces six months of work to six days. For these inventions, Mira has been awarded the 2021 $15,000 “Cure it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.
Mira’s goal is to improve human health, and particularly women’s health. She learned that, like many areas of women’s health, pregnancy has been understudied. Mira describes being shocked by how little is known about pregnancy and fetal development, given that every human life begins this way. Her work empowers mothers with concrete diagnostic data to more strongly advocate for themselves during pregnancy.
Mira’s research has led to three patents and was published in the prestigious journal, Science, and highlighted by the New York Times, CNN, and National Geographic, among others. Her work was also recognized by Bill Gates as one of the top 10 Innovations of 2019 in the MIT Technology Review.
Beyond her own discoveries, Mira gives back to her many communities. A global citizen born to Lebanese parents and growing up in four countries, Mira speaks Arabic, French, Spanish, and English. As an undergraduate biological engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was co-president of the Biological Engineering Undergraduate Board and was active in Colleges Against Cancer, raising $16.5K to honor her grandmother’s memory. Currently, Mira serves as a mentor for Stanford Women in STEM, and Stanford Bioscience Student Association, and she previously mentored for the Stanford Undergraduate Research Association. She also co-organized a fundraiser that raised $66K for local cafe staff furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mira is excited to be part of the Lemelson-MIT awards community which includes her graduate advisor, Stephen Quake. The 2012 $500K Lemelson-MIT Prize winner, Quake is known for inventions that include a non-invasive method for prenatal testing of Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. Mira credits the Lemelson-MIT Program with finding ways to ensure the human impacts of invention, as well as the scientific ones, are celebrated.