Bhatia selected as HHMI Investigator

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May 27, 2008

Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Health Sciences and Technology, Sangeeta Bhatia, is one of five MIT faculty to be named Howard Hughes Medical Institute, HHMI, investigator. The new additions bring the total number of current MIT professors holding HHMI positions to 19 out of a total of roughly 300--more active investigators than any at any other single institution.

As described on the HHMI website, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowship program is guided by the principle of "people, not projects." Since the early 1990s, investigators have been selected through rigorous national competitions. This year's new group includes 56 out of 1,070 applicants. Currently, the HHMI investigators include 12 Nobel Prize winners and 122 members of the National Academy of Sciences.

By providing salary and research funding the HHMI program enables its investigators to remain at their institutions but with the encouragement to explore, even to change direction with the ultimate goal to follow their ideas to full fruition with no time limits. From the HHMI website: "HHMI urges its researchers to take risks, to explore unproven avenues, to embrace the unknown — even if it means uncertainty or the chance of failure. [Using this philosophy,] HHMI investigators have made many important research advances — from the discovery of genes related to cystic fibrosis, obesity, high blood pressure, colon cancer and other diseases, to new insights about memory, vision and olfaction."

Bhatia and her colleagues have created small colonies of human liver cells that mimick aspects of the full-size human liver. Her long-term goal in this research is to generate a complete implantable liver.

Bhatia's lab is also fully engaged in the development of nanoparticles designed to diagnose and treat cancer. Nanoparticles are being designed to move into blood vessels which feed tumors. Once inside the blood vessels, these nanoparticles will then merge making clumps large enough to be detected by magnetic resonance imaging scans and reveal fast-growing cancer "hot spots." This work was most recently featured in an MIT News Office article on Nov. 20, 2007.

Read more about the new MIT HHMIs from the May 27 MIT News Office article, "Five MIT faculty named HHMI investigators."

Congratulations to Sangeeta Bhatia!