She co-invented the technology while a PhD student at Professor Jeff Karp’s Laboratories. She has been recognized for her research by MIT Tech Review’s “35 Innovators Under 35” in 2014, as well as Forbes in its “30 under 30” selection in healthcare in 2015. Maria holds a PhD in Bioengineering from the MIT-Portugal program and an MBA from INSEAD.
Could you give me an overview of the work you do at TISSIUM and what the company focuses on?
As a chief innovation officer, I lead TISSIUM’s technology and product concepts expansion, from early idea to proof of concept. Currently, the company has a pipeline of seven products across three verticals, including sutureless nerve repair, hernia repair and cardiovascular sealants. Each product is designed to repair different tissues in an atraumatic way. In addition, the company develops complementary delivery and activation devices for enhanced performance and usability of its products.
When did your interest in science develop?
I was fortunate enough to travel the globe during my childhood. My father was responsible for establishing affiliates for a Portuguese telecommunication infrastructure company in Africa and South America, so at 9 years old I spent a year in Mozambique where I became conscious of how diverse the world is, and how there is still so much work to be done to improve lives around the world with the help of science. Later, I had the luck of having great teachers, especially in chemistry, that really piqued my interest to understand how things work. There was no specific ‘aha’ moment, but my interest in science just grew over time as I was exposed to different realities, problems, and people.
Can you tell us about your journey to where you are now?
Early in my PhD studies, I was challenged by a clinician with a BIG clinical problem: every year, 40,000 babies are born in the USA with congenital heart defects, yet there is no method to close holes between the chambers of the heart through minimally invasive approaches amenable to fragile and growing tissue. Inspired by nature, and together with a multidisciplinary team, I developed a solution to this problem: an adhesive with properties that can be activated by an external stimulus of light providing extra control to the surgeon. Developing science and technology with the potential to materially improve the quality of life of patients in a sustainable manner became my passion.
And finally, just a few quickfire questions, starting with what value do you see in having a diverse resume?
True innovation comes from diversity of experiences, background etc. That is what allows to connect “the dots” in a way that has not been done before.
Have you encountered any bumps in the road along the way?
Building something from scratch – technology, team, manage all the unknowns while setting the pace for TISSIUM’s technology and its translation into products is in itself very challenging.
We're sure there have been many, but what is your proudest achievement?
Overcoming the bumps above and seeing TISSIUM’s products reaching the clinics.
What do you feel most passionate about in your current role?
Inventing a new technology and working with (and building) a team responsible for translating it from the bench to the bedside.