Bioengineering faculty member named to prestigious influential women list
The first thing Ramille Shah did when she saw her name among a list of renowned female engineers was share the article with her young daughter for inspiration.
This reflex by Shah was the perfect distillation of the motivation behind why the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) put together a list of 10 influential women in engineering.
The society noted that women make up about 47% of the overall workforce in the U.S., but only 14% of current engineers are women. ASME said that while the number of women engineers has been steadily increasing over recent decades, significant barriers still remain throughout the STEM journey that mentors and role models can help young female engineers overcome.
Shah, who is the co-founder and chief scientific officer of Dimension Inx, also leads the Richard and Loan Hill Department of Bioengineering’s Shah Tissue Engineering and Additive Manufacturing Lab at UIC.
Shah was humbled and honored to be named along side NASA astronaut Christina Koch, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering Head Evelyn Wang, and six others profiled by ASME.
“It’s really nice to get the recognition, and just as important for me is making my daughter and the young women who I have crossed paths with over the years proud,” said Shah, associate professor of bioengineering. “It was also inspiring and fascinating to read about what the other recognized women on the list were doing and to see how my work fits into the mix.”
Shah has been working in the tissue engineering field for the last two decades, initially as a researcher at Northwestern University, MIT and UIC. In the last three years, she has moved to commercialize the 3D-printable material technologies she has developed in her lab through the startup she co-founded.
Dimension Inx is focused on 3D-printing and manufacturing of custom biomaterials that can be used to regenerate tissue that is damaged from illness or injuries. The company, whose seminal patent for its 3D-Painting System was issued in March, is seeking FDA clearance for its first clinical product.
The product is made up of Hyperelastic Bone® and was created by the company to help heal bone defects. Shah said they are focusing on bone defects in the face first because they learned from medical professionals in the field that they lack good treatment options. The current gold standard is to remove bone from a patient’s rib or hip and then they try to mold it to fit into the face.
“Eventually, to leverage the true advantages of 3D printing, we will be able to scan a person’s face and defect so that we can print an implant with the exact size and shape that fits that defect perfectly,” Shah said. “That’s the longer term — a bone product that can be printed to match the patient, implanted, and overtime it remodels and turns into natural bone.”
Shah added the company is also developing other 3D-printable biomaterials for biofabricating tissues such as nerves, cartilage, and even artificially created ovaries.
Shah thanked her colleagues in the bioengineering department and Department Head Thomas Royston for their support of her research and translational efforts through Dimension Inx.
“They are recruiting strong faculty into the department and I think there is going to be a lot of great things coming out of the department in the years to come,” Shah said.
She also has the support of her daughter, who said she got a thrill out of seeing her mom amongst the other women on the list and pledged to work as hard as she does. Shah is hoping to pay it forward to a younger generation the same way she said crucial women helped keep her in the field throughout her career.
“If there are less women around who you can relate to and who have gone through what you’re going through, it is more difficult,” Shah said. “So, having those role models present and available to talk to is huge for keeping women in the engineering track throughout higher education and beyond.”