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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Time to heal —Saleem H Ali

Every year, MIT’s prestigious publication Technology Review selects 35 “young innovators” worldwide whose “inventions and research are most exciting”. Among the laureates this year is a 34-year-old Pakistani-American doctor named Bilal Shafi, who is based at the University of Pennsylvania.

When I interviewed Dr Shafi last week, he was quite direct and unapologetic about his devoutly Muslim identity as well as a sense of pride in his Pakistani lineage. Such patriotism among expatriate Pakistanis is becoming increasingly rare as the political situation declines in the country. Often, there is a sense of foreboding about the motherland or a detachment among young Pakistani-Americans who have grown up in the West. Yet Dr Shafi had no such complexes about his multiple identities and has excelled in his field with an aim to give his faith and ethnic homeland a good name.

Before starting his residency in Pennsylvania, he was based at Stanford University’s Biodesign Innovation Programme where he developed a biopolymer coating for the heart that can be highly effective in reducing mortality in patients with serious cardiac disease. The liquid coating is injected through a catheter immediately following a heart attack. The material subsequently gels but remains flexible enough to expand with each heartbeat, yet firm enough to support the heart during its natural healing process. The polymer is designed to degrade after six months as it is innocuously absorbed by the body.

Time to heal —Saleem H Ali


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