Deblina Sarkar wins The Sontag Foundation's Distinguished Scientist Award

Professor Deblina Sarkar has been awarded The Sontag Foundation’s Distinguished Scientist Award—one of only three researchers nationwide to be selected for this distinctive honor this year. She is also the only researcher from MIT within the past decade to win this award.

The Distinguished Scientist Award honors extraordinary scientists with the potential to make a significant impact in the field of brain cancer.

Prof. Deblina Sarkar and her Nano-Cybernetic Biotrek research group at the MIT Media Lab are looking to change the paradigm of brain cancer treatment.

“Prof. Sarkar uniquely combines applied physics and nanoelectronics with biology to build unconventional and radically new technologies. Her work can lead to a paradigm shift in bioelectronic interfaces and change the way we think of therapeutics today,” said Dr. Maria Zuber, the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics and Vice President for Research at MIT. “Especially for diseases like brain cancer, Prof. Sarkar’s technologies hold the promise of providing entirely new treatment options. I congratulate her on this wonderful and well-deserved award.” 

Brain cancer such as Glioblastoma (GBM) currently has no cure, and the median survival period for patients is only 12-15 months. This is notwithstanding an intensive standard of treatment that comprises surgery, drugs, radiation, and immunotherapies. Hence, there is an urgent need to develop novel therapeutic modalities.  

"My lab has developed the technology of wireless subcellular-sized brain implants that can be remotely controlled with electromagnetic fields to provide spatio-temporally precise, novel nano-bioelectronic therapies. The Sontag Foundation Distinguished Scientist Award will enable us to pursue a bold new approach, employing our technology to treat brain cancer where traditional therapies have failed," said Prof. Sarkar.

This technology has the potential to significantly increase overall survival of brain cancer patients, and it will be affordable to people across the diverse socioeconomic spectrum. 

This is a highly transdisciplinary project and leverages the diverse expertise of Prof. Sarkar’s group, which includes the fields of applied physics, electrical, biomedical, and chemical engineering, as well as neuroscience and clinical oncology—all under the same roof. Sarkar’s group fabricates their novel nanoelectronic devices at MIT.nano and Harvard CNS. The characterization of these devices and their integration with biological systems, including in vivo work, is carried out in her unique lab, which features custom-designed and specialized equipment built in-house by her group, both for nanoelectronics and biological characterizations. Her lab is spread across the MIT buildings of Media Arts and Sciences, Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research, and McGovern Institute for Brain Research. To test this new technology, her lab is establishing patient-derived xenograft models of brain cancer with samples obtained from Mayo clinic and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. 

While commenting on the impact of Prof. Sarkar’s work, Vladimir Bulović, the director of MIT.nano and the MIT School of Engineering’s Associate Dean for Innovation, said, “The broadly impactful work of Prof. Sarkar harnesses the potency of nanoscale electronics to enable new opportunities for addressing the grand challenges of disorders of the brain.”

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