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Sangeeta Bhatia, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) Jacobs School of Engineering, is among 24 of the nationís most promising young university researchers awarded the 1999 Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Bhatia will receive $625,000 over five years for her research on liver tissue engineering.

Bhatia is motivated by the fact that there are no treatments, other than organ transplants, for liver failure. Today, biotechnology companies are working on alternatives to liver transplantation such as external devices with live liver cells that function like a dialysis machine, and liver cell transplantation. In both cases, one type of liver cell, the hepatocyte, is used. However, once isolated from their natural environment, hepatocytes quickly lose their ability to perform the functions of metabolizing food and protecting the body from toxic substances.

Bhatia believes the key to creating successful bioartificial devices or engineered tissue is understanding how hepatocytes interact with other types of liver cells and their surrounding environment. She specializes in using microfabrication tools to obtain new information that cannot be gleaned by conventional means. For example, Bhatia has developed and patented a technique, called micropatterning that allows her to precisely assemble different liver cells on glass or plastic chips in much the same way electrical engineers assemble integrated circuits on silcon chips. She recently used this technique to prove that hepatocyte function improves when these cells are located beside another type of cell called a fibroblast.

Bhatia plans to use the Packard Fellowship to develop additional tools that will help to understand liver function and engineer replacement liver tissue.

Bhatia joined UC San Diego in 1998 after completing a Ph.D. in Medical Engineering from the Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and a M.D. from Harvard Medical School. In addition to liver tissue engineering, Bhatia is working on understanding cirrhosis (the scarring of the liver tissue that leads to liver disease), new techniques to quickly diagnose variations of Hepatitis, and novel ways to apply emerging technologies to improve both medical research and electronics manufacturing. She is the faculty advisor to the Society of Women Engineers student chapter at UC San Diego and she passionately supports efforts to encourage women in science.

A component of the Science Program of the Packard Foundation, the Packard Fellowships were established to further the work of promising young scientists and engineers, to encourage networking among these researchers and to support efforts to attract talented graduate students into university research. By providing outstanding young scientists with largely unrestricted funds, the Foundation hopes to encourage them to remain in university careers. The 1999 Fellows were nominated by their university presidents and selected by the Packard Foundation with the help of a panel of distinguished scientists. The Packard Foundation was created in 1964 by David Packard, co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard Company, and his wife Lucile Salter Packard.

Sangeeta Bhatia, assistant professor of bioengineering

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