CHANDAN SEN, PhD, seems to be perpetually working against the clock.
To a degree, that’s not unusual for scientists doing medical research they hope will ease suffering or cure disease. But Sen seems driven by an internal clock that reminds him he has a finite number of years to do his research and many ideas to pursue within that short span.
“We have very limited time in life,” said Sen, the director of the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering and the J. Stanley Battersby Distinguished Professor of Surgery at IU School of Medicine.
Sen’s drive as a researcher and a discoverer recently led to his election as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, a status given solely to academic inventors. Its members include 1,400 fellows worldwide from 250 universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes.
Sen said he understands there are highly innovative people in private industry, and he has several collaborators there. “Within academia, there are barriers to innovation, and we are collectively working to bring those down,” he said. “In my mind, I’m a professor first and an inventor later.”
Sen said he’s drawn to high-risk, disruptive solutions. And, at times, his lab work sounds like it’s drawn from science fiction.
He and his team are working in a new field called in vivo tissue reprogramming. One application is to restore blood flow to wounded or damaged tissues and organs by reprogramming the skin so that cells in that organ can grow blood vessels. His team is looking at the same process to reprogram skin to generate and deliver insulin to diabetics. Both ideas are undergoing testing in animals. His team has developed a silicon nanochip to enable such reprogramming.
Another area of his work is with electroceutical antimicrobials—weak electrical forces that are of therapeutic value to manage infection. In one example, he works on a fabric which has the ability—through a very low-voltage charge—to kill microorganisms or make them sensitive to antibiotics. He was developing the idea for use on wounds and in surgical spaces when the pandemic hit, and he applied the technology to COVID masks now on the market.
As to the recognition, Sen said science is about building on previous ideas and working with the team around you. “First, there must be the humility of knowledge that you are standing on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “And it’s also about gleaning from others and from your own failures.”