Sagar's research focused on wound healing partly because his grandmother has diabetes, and even a minor injury could become a wound that doesn't heal properly. "Chronic wounds pose problems for many people, especially diabetics," he says. "About 15% of diabetics will suffer from chronic wounds within their lifetime, and 60,000 diabetics undergo amputations each year," because their wounds get infected and turn gangrenous.

He decided to develop a scaffold for growing new cells on a wound, then realized such a platform could also be used to grow tissue outside the body. That would expand its utility beyond wound healing to tissue engineering. People planning cosmetic surgery could have new tissue cultured in advance. Diabetics could have replacement tissue ready for internal repairs; his grandmother's close friend, also a diabetic, needed four ulcer operations before the open sore closed. Ultimately, it might be possible to grow whole organs for transplant.

Sagar's "smart matrix" scaffold gives new potential to the hyaluronic-acid (HA) hydrogels already used for wound healing. He developed methods to control the elasticity and structural form of growing cells by modifying the mechanical and chemical properties of the HA hydrogel. Tissue cultured with skin cells from a patient's arm could then be tailored for, say, the nasal cavity.

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COMMENTS On The Issues

Where would the extra R&D funds come from? I am not in favor of raising taxes too much; however, a small increase, even if it is only on the wealthy, would go a long way in funding research. Individual investors and venture capitalists will continue to invest in companies they feel will grow and be successful.

Another possible way to increase funding for research is to not waste what is already provided. Bush's pledge to send a manned mission to Mars has resulted in cuts of 10% or more in other programs, including those at the National Science Foundation, which funds many research labs across the country. Rather than making smart investments, such as repairing the Hubble Space Telescope, the President calls for funding a goal that, if accomplished, would provide little useful scientific data. A "Mars walk" may make for good TV and perhaps help restore NASA's image, but it would do little for advancing the technologies our world needs today.

Besides an increase in spending for research, better apportionment of funds is also needed.


Sagar V. Mehta

Wheatley School
Old Westbury, N.Y.

Hobbies: Jazz clarinet, math, engineering, tennis, cross-country running, playing frisbee

Ambition: Medicine or biomedical research--or maybe a pro poker player