Working Small, Thinking Big: A Conversation with Bioengineer Tejal Desai

By Jeff Miller

Photo of Tejal Desai

Tejal Desai

From organic compounds to organelles, we talk a lot about the building blocks of life. For most people, it’s an apt metaphor. But for others like UCSF’s Tejal Desai, PhD, the term is a very literal career imperative. You see, Desai is a bioengineer, someone who not only tries to understand how structures and systems inside living beings are designed and built, but who also designs and builds her own micro-nano tools.

What kind of tools are these? Well, imagine a kind of cloaking device that enables a drug to reach its target without provoking an immune response that would destroy it. Imagine being able to control diabetes by creating a successful delivery system for replacement pancreatic cells. Or consider microscopic scaffolds that support the growth of new cells to replace those lost to the blinding disease known as macular degeneration.

These are just some of the wonders being worked up in Desai’s laboratory at UCSF Mission Bay within what is known as the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, or QB3. Desai is an enthusiastic, award-winning advocate for this fusion of engineering and biology. She is also a compelling example of how a few encouraging words, a special conference and a single teacher’s passion for the natural world can bridge the divide that often separates young women from careers in science.

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Related Links

Desai Lab
Spotlighting Science: QB3: An Incubator for Innovation
UCSF Mission Bay, October 26, 2005
UCSF Science and Health Education Partnership (SEP)
Macular Degeneration: Preserving Eyesight Through Regeneration Science
USCF Today, March 9, 2007