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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Tejal Desai

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

Dr. Desai has done pioneering work in the development of micro and nanofabricated platforms for therapeutic delivery. This is demonstrated in two new technologies that she has developed over the past few years. The first technology is a nanoporous biocapsule for the immunoisolation of transplanted cells for diabetes. As stated in a National Science Foundation press release, this work “pushes the frontiers of tissue engineering and drug delivery technology. The biocapsule features two innovations designed to overcome previous obstacles. A biological process allows the capsule to continuously produce insulin, rather than using up a limited supply. The capsule is made of a material designed to overcome the problem of implant rejection. Desai has also broken new ground by developing a successfully implantable micro-scale device.” To prevent the capsule from being attacked and destroyed by the immune system, Desai developed a silicon membrane covered with tiny uniform pores, each seven nanometers across. The membrane acts as a "microfilter," allowing the secretion of insulin from the capsule but blocking the entrance of antibodies. The membrane is fabricated with photolithographic techniques commonly used for silicon microchips. Dr. Desai’s development of a microfabricated biocapsule for cellular immunoisolation provides a new treatment modality for chronic cell-based diseases such as diabetes, alzheimer's, and parkinson’s.

This work has garnered the attention of numerous print and media organizations including CNN, The Economist, and Popular Science. The work led to Professor Desai being named MIT Technology Review’s 100 Top Innovators (1999) and Popular Sciences’s Brilliant 10 Scientists (2003). The technology and its applications not only resulted in significant publications, but has been patented and licensed to a start-up company (iMEDD, Inc.) for drug delivery applications. Dr. Desai is a scientific consultant for iMEDD and is working to develop other drug delivery technologies. She is also on the Scientific Advisory Board of Microislet, a company developing pancreatic islet transplantation strategies for long-term treatment of diabetes.

The second example of Dr. Desai’s innovative technologies is in the area of oral delivery. While oral delivery is the preferred route of drug administration, the breakdown of molecules and low levels of absorption in the gastrointestinal system often render the oral delivery of proteins and peptides ineffective. Bioadhesive delivery devices can be used to circumvent these problems by protecting the drug from gastrointestinal denaturation, localizing and prolonging a drug at a specific target site, and maintaining direct contact with the intestinal cells, thereby increasing the drug concentration gradient. Dr. Desai’s research has led to the development of microfabricated oral drug delivery devices (Tao et al., 2003; Ahmed et al., 2002). This is the first time micromachining techniques have been used to create microscale devices that would traverse the GI tract and delivery contents in a targeted manner. The work combines microfabrication, surface chemistry, and cell biology to achieve more robust and therapeutically effective drug delivery. The benefits of microfabrication include the ability to tailor the size, shape, reservoir volume, and surface characteristics of the drug delivery vehicle. This work was one of the first published examples of a microfabricated platform for oral drug delivery. The work was selected as the 2003 EURAND grand prize winner for the development of oral drug delivery technology presented by the International Controlled Release Society. Selection of this work was based on: Innovation, quality of research and technical content, potential commercial application, potential impact on the drug delivery industry, and potential to solve an industry-wide drug delivery challenge. The work has been cited by leaders in drug delivery such as Robert Langer as being “intriguing” innovative (Review Article, Nature Biotechnology, 2003).

Brief Biography

Dr. Tejal Desai received the Sc.B. degree in Biomedical Engineering from Brown University (Providence, RI) in 1994 and the Ph.D. degree in bioengineering from the joint graduate program at University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco, in 1998. In September 1998, she was appointed an Assistant Professor in the newly formed Department of Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Illinois. In January 2002, she joined the Biomedical Engineering faculty at Boston University as an Associate Professor. Dr. Tejal Desai directs the Laboratory of Therapeutic Micro and Nanotechnology. Her research combines methods and materials originally used for micro-electro-mechanical systems to create implantable biohybrid devices for cell encapsulation, targeted drug delivery platforms, templates for cell and tissue regeneration, and novel protocols for the surface modification of biomaterials. Dr. Desai uses a multidisciplinary approach to better understand biological systems and develop therapeutic modalities for a variety of pathologies. In addition to authoring over 60 technical papers, she is presently serving on the editorial board of Langmuir, Biomedical Microdevices, and Sensor Letters and is editing a book on Therapeutic Microtechnology. She has chaired and organized several conferences and symposia in the area of bioMEMS, micro and nanofabricated biomaterials, and microscale tissue engineering. Her other interests include K-12 educational outreach, gender and science education, science policy issues, and biotechnology/bioengineering industrial outreach.

Desai's research efforts have earned her numerous awards. In 1999, she was recognized by Crain's Chicago Business magazine with their annual "40 Under 40" award for leadership. She was also named that year by Technology Review Magazine as one of the nation's "Top 100 Young Innovators” and Popular Science’s Brilliant 10. Desai's teaching and outreach efforts were recognized when she won the College of Engineering Best Advisor/Teacher Award and more recently, India New England’s Woman of the Year. She also won the National Science Foundation's "New Century Scholar" award and the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program "CAREER" award, which recognizes teacher-scholars most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. Her research in therapeutic microtechnology has also earned her the Visionary Science Award from the International Society of BioMEMS and Nanotechnology in 2001 and the 2003 Eurand Award for Outstanding novel research in oral drug delivery.