Through this honorary doctorate, Utrecht University expresses its appreciation of Sangeeta Bhatia and her work, both as a scientist and advocate for women and under-represented minorities in science and engineering. This year’s theme is ‘Town and Gown’, honoring the deep ties between the university and Utrecht proper. Without one, the other cannot thrive. This theme is reflected in Sangeeta Bhatia’s interdisciplinary approach to her work and its relation to society, for which she is internationally recognized. As a doctor, bioengineer and entrepreneur, she creates bioengineering solutions for medical problems, and her professional impact is augmented by her dedication as a role model.

The conferring honorary dean is Wouter Dhert, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, who has contributed significantly to the positioning of regenerative medicine in The Netherlands. Dhert is a key figure in raising awareness of the convergence of science and technology.

The conferring honorary professor is Niels Geijsen, Hubrecht Institute and Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, who focuses on the development of novel gene editing technologies to treat human disease. Geijsen first met Bhatia during his time in Boston (post-doc at the Whitehead Institute/MIT and Assistant Professor, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute). “Sangeeta is a very inspiring researcher and I’m honored to be able to take part in this ceremony, “ says Geijsen, “She’s incomparable, not only as a nexus of disciplines, but as an advocate for diversity and young talent.”

Doctor, engineer, entrepreneur
As if becoming an expert in one field isn’t hard enough, Sangeeta Bhatia decided to conquer all three, and then some. This highly regarded mother of two, was initially rejected from Harvard’s M.D.-Ph.D. program. Once offered a chance, however, Bhatia quickly rises through the ranks: during her 3rd year of medical school, she accepted a faculty position at the University of California, San Diego, and finished medical school while setting up her lab. She was tenured in just three years. Since then, Bhatia has established two companies of her own and co-founded and supported 10 startups based on her lab’s technology.

Pioneering nano technologies for patient benefit
Sangeeta Bhatia is often described as a bold risk taker, and her lab develops groundbreaking technologies to answer big problems that have broad application and great impact. Supported by a collaborative multi-disciplinary team, Bhatia has invented a broad range of nano technologies that have yielded inventions for tissue regeneration, stem cell differentiation, medical diagnostics and drug delivery.

In particular, Bhatia has pioneered the building a human microliver, using advances in miniaturization from the engineering world that were originally intended to speed computation. Her updated microfabrication techniques have given the regenerative medicine field the first high-throughput microliver that can improve patient-specific drug safety predictions, that can aid in the eradication of malaria from its dormant reservoir in the liver, and that serves as a basis for an implantable engineered liver that could one day replace the need for transplants in patients with liver disease. Bhatia continues to pioneer advances and has developed nanoparticles and nanoporous materials for detecting tumor cells and drug delivery.

Her students are encouraged to tinker.
As an inspiring, charismatic inventor, Bhatia recognizes that commercializing her inventions has a crucial impact on patient health. In fact, her students are encouraged to spend at least 20% of their time “tinkering” in the lab, and they’ve produced more than 50 product lines – all deploying miniaturization technologies (micro and nano) for applications in human health). Even at a young age, she’s fostered a next generation of scientists, some themselves now full professors.

To have an impact, you need to be visible.
Sangeeta Bhatia is passionate about elevating public awareness of medical bioengineering and is a role model for women and under-represented minorities in the field. She stands by her core values and philosophy that have been fine-tuned over the years: find a need and solve it – integrate and innovate - and to amplify your impact, you need to be visible. To this end, she publishes both data-driven and commentary articles in top research journals (NatureScienceCell family) and mainstream media (ie, BBCForbesScientific AmericanThe Economist, TEDMED, the World Economic Forum). In addition, Bhatia has facilitated change by forming and helping lead Diversity committees, has co-founded ‘Keys to Empowering Youth’, which brings middle school girls to MIT to participate in lab work, and added a formal Alumni Networking component to her own lab, in order to facilitate cross-talk and multigenerational support for her 150+ trainees, and counting.

About Sangeeta Bhatia
Sangeeta Bhatia, M.D, Ph.D. is John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor and Director of the Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies and the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine at MIT. She is a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, where she is one of only 4 engineers (out of 330) and the only MD/PhD engineer. Bhatia has been honored for her interdisciplinary contributions through elected memberships, has been recognized as an inventor who is changing the world with her application of technology by Fast Company and Foreign Policy magazines, was awarded the 2014 Lemelson-MIT Prize (the ‘Oscar for Inventors’) and the 2015 Heinz Award for Technology. She has been named one of the 10 Most Influential Women in Biotech, and to the MIT TR100 as one of the world’s top innovators under the age of 35.