USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

Molly Stevens — Materials scientist

Internationally known for her work in nanotechnology to regenerate bone and tissue growth, and to design bioactive materials for early detection of disease 

Nanotechnology (the science of manipulating matter at the atomic or molecular level, especially to build microscopic materials) has the potential to transform key areas of science and engineering. Molly Stevens, a materials scientist at the Imperial College of London (England), is using nanotechnology to push the boundaries of  biotechnology through advances in bone and tissue regeneration, and designing bioactive materials for the early detection of disease. So promising are these inroads (which are based largely on stem cell research) that Molly envisions a time when the regrowth of joints will be possible to replace diseased or injured ones, and a day when tissue will be generated to repair such areas as defective cardiac muscles.

Why She’s Important:  Molly received international recognition in 2005 when she — working with colleagues from Imperial College London, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Vanderbilt University — demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to grow healthy new bone reliably in one part of the body and use it to repair damaged bone at a different body location. The study, based upon research with rabbits, demonstrated that predictable volumes of bone can be grown on demand ‘by persuading the body to do what it already knows how to do.”  If Molly’s research results are proven effective in human studies, it could become possible to grow new bone for all types of repairs, instead of repairing bone material through surgical means. And for people with serious bone disease, it may even be possible to grow replacement bone at an early stage and freeze it so it can be used when it is needed, Molly and her team report.

Current Activities: At Imperial College London, Molly serves as professor of Biomedical Materials and Regenerative Medicine, and as research director for Biomedical Material Sciences at the college’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering. Today her research group is internationally know for its work in regenerative medicine (regen med), most notably for pioneering new techniques to engineer large quantities of mature bone, and more recently, cardiac tissue for transplantation. Equally significant, Molly (who is also chief science officer of RepRegen — her own biomedical company in London) is involved with designing bioactive materials that one day could be applied to a wide range of uses, including the early detection of disease.

 Other Achievements: Molly and her research have been profiled in such top publications as The Lancet (Britain’s prestigious science journal), and fashion magazine Vogue, which in 2011 named her as one of its “Wonder Women.” In addition, she was the first female to be awarded Britain’s noted Royal Pharmaceutical Society Conference Science Medal — the first time in the society’s 40-year history that this has occurred.

Education:  Molly received her undergraduate degree from Bath University (Britain) in Pharmaceutical Sciences, and her Ph.D. in Biophysical Investigations from the University of Nottingham (Britain).  Her post-doctoral training followed at the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In Her Own Words: Commenting on the innovations developed by her multi-disciplinary research team, she says:  “What I would really like is that a lot of our innovations don’t remain just in the Western world, that they actually can be really applied much more in global health type situations because there’s a massive need for new technologies.”

For more exciting role models in science and engineering, visit the USA Science & Engineering Festival www.usasciencefestival.org