Kristi Anseth, 31
Univerity of Colorado
The ubiquity of plastic in today’s consumer culture is annoying, but bioengineer Kristi Anseth wants to see plastic really get under your skin.Anseth develops new types of photopolymers,plastics that go from soft to hard when struck by ultraviolet light.Similar materials are used by dentists to plug cavities,but Anseth has invented novel photopolymers that actually wear away over time—a feature that promises much for orthopedic repairs. The idea, says Anseth,“is to have the polymer material degrade predictably and on schedule with the body’s own bone healing.”
Anseth’s polymers are now being tested in mending serious fractures and patching holes left by bone cancer. With precise control over the speed at which the polymers dissolve,Anseth envisions implants that might also release timed doses of bone-healing growth factors.
Tissue engineering is up next.Anseth is working to combine photopolymers with lab-grown cartilage to create a living implant that can mend worn-out joints. It is a more difficult problem than patching bone,according to Anseth,because “cartilage does not
have the capacity to heal itself the way bone does.” Collaborators at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are testing Anseth’s technique in animal models. Anseth’s ability to wring the most out of materials is evidence of a “superior creative genius” according to Robert Langer, an MIT professor and the father of modern biomaterials.