If the name Kristi Anseth hasn't reached our collective consciousness as yet, just wait a bit. At just 35, Anseth is a nationwide leader in the study of biomaterials, and her work in creatively intersecting chemistry, biology, and engineering may one day lead to wide use of easily replaceable body parts for people suffering from injuries or chronic conditions.
In the year 2000, Kristi Anseth, a CU professor of chemical and biological engineering, became the first engineer in the country to be named a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator. Four years later, she received the National Science Foundation’s highest honor, the Alan T. Waterman Award. The Waterman Award recognizes an outstanding young researcher (age 35 or younger) in any field of science or engineering, with a $500,000 grant over a three-year period to support their continued research.
Anseth, who earned her PhD at CU in 1994 (just two years after earning her bachelor’s at Purdue), is considered by many to be the pioneer in the field of tissue engineering. She and her team—which includes more than 15 CU students—were the first to successfully develop an injectable and biodegradable "scaffold" to regenerate cartilaginous tissue using light-activated chemistries.
The process involves using ultraviolet light to make repeating chains of complex molecules called polymers into degradable, three-dimensional scaffolds that can be injected with chondrocite cells that grow and multiply in the gel-like substance.
The hope is that development of these biodegradable, flexible materials may be medically available within a decade for procedures that will allow the "injection" of new body parts into persons who are injured or suffer from debilitating injuries or diseases—without the trauma that can accompany major surgery.
“We still have to answer some questions about how to make a scaffold structurally and mechanically able to produce functional cartilage, how to accelerate cartilage formation and control degradation of the scaffolds, and then fabricate the scaffolds in such a way as to minimize surgical invasiveness while facilitating their placement during a procedure,” Anseth says.
She also is collaborating with faculty, researchers and students in the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department to bioengineer human heart valves.
* Read the 2008 feature story , "Body Builder," about Kristi Anseth published in Popular Science magazine.