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Sangeeta Bhatia named one of Foreign Policy's 100 Leading Global Thinkers

Bhatia recognized for work developing low-cost, noninvasive diagnostics for colon cancer.
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Sangeeta Bhatia
Sangeeta Bhatia
Photo courtesy of the Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies.

Koch Institute faculty member Sangeeta Bhatia has been selected as one of Foreign Policy magazine’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2014 for her work in developing inexpensive and noninvasive diagnostics for the early detection of colon cancer.

The annual list identifies top minds with translational ideas in politics, business, technology, the arts, and the sciences that have the potential to impact millions around the world. This year’s list, published today, has a particular focus on disruptive ideas and technologies. The honorees were recognized today at an event in Washington, D.C., where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was the keynote speaker.

Bhatia, the John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was specifically recognized for her work in developing accessible diagnostics for colon cancer that would enable earlier detection.

If colon cancer is detected early, while cancer cells are confined to the colon or rectum, the five-year survival rate for patients is 90 percent. However, such early detection represents only 40 percent of diagnoses, hindered in large part by expensive and invasive tests, such as colonoscopies.

Bhatia and her lab recognized this critical gap and developed nanoparticles and a simple, inexpensive, paper-strip urine test that can reveal the presence of cancer within minutes. With this diagnostic, the researchers envision that patients would be injected with nanoparticles that amplify signals from tumor proteins, naturally occurring biomarkers that are not otherwise detectable due to their location and small numbers. When tumor proteins interact with the nanoparticles, hundreds of synthetic biomarkers are released and then excreted in the urine. Similar to a home pregnancy test, Bhatia’s paper-strip system can, in mouse models, reveal the presence of cancer in minutes.

This sort of point-of-care test could represent a significant advance in bringing cancer detection to developing nations and remote locations that lack extensive medical infrastructure. In countries where more advanced diagnostics are available, synthetic biomarkers could be beneficial as an inexpensive and noninvasive alternative to traditional diagnostics.

While Bhatia’s paper-strip diagnostic has thus far only been tested in mice, she is working to commercialize this technology to accelerate its delivery to patients. She and her team are also adapting the diagnostic for other medical applications, such as fibrosis, thrombosis, and prostate cancer.

Bhatia received the 2014 Lemelson-MIT Prize in recognition for her work in cancer detection and in liver-tissue engineering. She is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, a member of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, and a member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

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