Prof. Ali Khademhosseini: Building tissues, cell-by-cell by Melis A. '08
Khademhosseini, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the joint MIT-Harvard Health Sciences and Technology Program, has recently been named one of Technology Review’s Top 35 Young Innovators of 2007 for his inventive tissue engineering research.
The debate over nature versus nurture has raged on for decades, but few people would deny that individuals are shaped by their experiences. Just like humans, cells develop in response to their environment; a heart cannot be grown by simply placing stem cells in a Petri dish.
However, Ali Khademhosseini has utilized cutting-edge techniques to mimic the microenvironment that heart muscle cells needs to make functional, beating fibers. An Assistant Professor of Medicine at the joint MIT-Harvard Health Sciences and Technology Program, Khademhosseini has recently been named one of Technology Review’s Top 35 Young Innovators of 2007 for his inventive tissue engineering research.
Many researchers around the world are trying to grow living tissue, but Khademhosseini’s work is unique in its “bottom-up” approach. Rather than creating a 3-D gel scaffold and filling it with cells, he focuses on assembling the individual pieces. These “living Legos” can be combined with “building blocks” made of other types of cells to faithfully recreate the organs found in your body. Khademhosseini is applying his micro-scaffold to grow stem cells and tooth buds, study the cell interactions that give rise to the gastrointestinal tract and lungs, and test new drugs.
With over 14 pending patents and 55 published papers, you might assume that Professor Khademhosseini knew from an early age that he wanted to be a bioengineer. In fact, his childhood aspiration was to become a professional baseball player, and it was not until a summer internship in his junior year at college that he became fascinated with tissue engineering. After completing his undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering and Masters degree in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto, he came to MIT to pursue a Ph.D. in the lab of world-renown scientist Robert Langer. He admits that while MIT is not necessarily fun in the conventional sense of the word, it is extraordinary because of the incredibly smart, hardworking, and passionate students, outstanding professors, and amazing resources.
As MIT’s Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor in 2004, Professor Khademhosseini has also taught his share of UROP students. He expects his UROPs to be committed, genuinely interested in the process of science and discovery, and mature. In return, many of his students have published papers and attended prestigious graduate schools. His advice for UROP students is simple: be committed and know your limits; classes come first but UROPs are meaningless without dedication.
In general, he advises students to follow their passions; life is filled with highs and lows, but genuine interest in your studies and hard work will enable you to get through the tough times. Since he grew up in Iran and his family immigrated to Canada when he was 12, Khademhosseini applied to MIT as an international student and has experienced the challenges first-hand. But, he emphasizes that MIT is an excellent stepping stone, and is well worth the time and effort to prepare a strong application. He suggests seeking advice from mentors and making sure that your application is well-rounded and clearly demonstrates your interests. Current students and faculty are also a wonderful resource, and contacting student groups like the Persian Student Association, could prove to be very helpful.
To see detailed videos on Professor Khademhosseini’s research, click here.