Sangeeta Bhatia

Miniature Technologies for Medicine

Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia is an MIT professor, a biomedical engineer, and a biotech inventor. She uses computer technologies to advance the medical field and has invented tiny devices to use in cancer therapy, research in diseases, and human tissue regeneration. A powerhouse inventor and a world problem solver, Bhatia received the $500K Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2014 for her innovations in human health care.  

Bhatia was born in Boston, Massachusetts to parents who immigrated from India. Her mother was one of the first women to earn a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) in India and her father was an engineer and entrepreneur. Growing up, Bhatia’s parents encouraged her to pursue math and science and her ninth-grade biology class inspired a new interest. Her father suggested she pursue a new field called bioengineering, and even brought her to MIT to visit the Department of Medical Engineering. During the summer before her senior year, Bhatia discovered a lab that had a sign with the words “Artificial Organ,” and applied to get a position in that lab. At the lab, she met Dr. Moses Goddard became her mentor and inspired her to get a PhD. This fascinated Bhatia and soon enough, she was on her way to applying to grad programs. 

Bhatia is a multidimensional inventor and educator. She holds a BS in Biomedical Engineering from Brown University, an MS in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, an MD from Harvard Medical School, and a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from MIT.   

An area of Bhatia’s research focuses on ways to improve early disease detection and monitoring, especially in developing countries. One of her solutions is a type of biomarker test administered through an injection. Biomarker tests tell doctors what is wrong inside your body. The test Bhatia designed has been used to detect colon cancer and blood clots. These tests have been adapted for global use to support communities with little medical infrastructure.   

In 1991, Bhatia studied along with her third mentor, Mehmet Toner. Together they focused on trying to keep cells alive on a surface and came up with the solution of microfabrication. Bhatia’s research also focuses on infectious diseases. She later created a microliver that models human drug metabolism, predicts drug toxicity, and interacts with bacteria. Previous tools to predict toxicity used human cells that did not accurately imitate a working human liver. Bhatia was able to stabilize human liver cells and create a new generation of tissues to make the microliver, which can improve predictions of drug safety without risking patient exposure. She later co-founded Hepregen in 2008, where the company focused on manufacturing microlivers that pharmaceutical companies could use. 

Sangeeta Bhatia is currently the John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. She is also the Director of Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies and a core faculty member for MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES). Bhatia is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Science, the National Academy of Inventors, and Brown University's Board of Trustees.  

In addition to winning the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2014, Bhatia has received many awards. These include the Heinz Award in 2015, the Catalyst Award from the Science Club for Girls in 2017, an Honorary Doctorate from Utrecht University in 2018, and the Othmer Gold Medal in 2019.   

You can learn more about Bhatia in this case study.