Spotlight: Dr. Manu Platt

Lining the hallways of the Parker H. Petit Institute of Bioengineering and Biosciences, you will find rows of incredibly unique and intelligent professors, many of whom stand at the helm of impressive labs destined to make waves in their respective fields. Of these, Dr. Manu Platt stands out as a prominent figure in the Biomedical Engineering department here at Georgia Tech. I recently had the pleasure of getting to know Dr. Platt, and for those of you who have yet to meet him, I would like to introduce you to this lively professor with a smile that will light up a room.

Like many students may have, I initially assumed that most professors were more or less subtle variations of Sheldon Cooper; however, Dr. Platt is yet another example of how personable and interesting our faculty is. With an ear for live music, the ability to appreciate reality TV, and the dexterity to create impressive origami, he is a truly relatable person.

Born in New Jersey, Dr. Platt is the second-oldest of six boys and discovered his love for science at the early age of five when his class went to a national science fair in California. Introduced to and inspired by research, Platt carried his desire to understand “the way things work” all throughout childhood. His mother was a health teacher and often told him to “eat this” or “do that” because they were good for his body, but the curious young Platt wanted to know why they were good. He further fueled his passion through science fiction novels like the Xanth series, while his complex mind was intrigued by technical things such as the way TVs worked. As he entered higher education, Dr. Platt’s eagerness to learn and natural intelligence began taking him to greater heights, as he was awarded a NASA scholarship that allowed him to intern for NASA in three different cities as an undergraduate. Platt still recalls how much he learned on his first project in Huntsville, where he worked with diatoms, all the way until his last project in Mountain View, California, where he researched extremophiles, recombinant DNA and sterilized spacecraft.

Now, Dr. Platt works across many disciplines but regards his work with cathepsins, the little enzymes that degrade our collagen and other proteins, as his babies. They are the cause of many diseases (including cancer metastasis, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease) and are also commonly at the root of rotary cuff injuries as they break down our tendons. Dr. Platt has tested injectable hydrogels on rats walking on a downhill treadmill in an attempt to inhibit these enzymes and counteract the resulting injury. Many of the drugs for these conditions have negative side effects, so his lab models cathepsins to find solutions that will not produce heartburn, rash, fever, headache, dizziness upon standing, coma, or possibly even death. What is even more fascinating is that, while modeling these enzymes, Dr. Platt has found certain conditions where the cathepsins would disappear entirely. This led him to deduce that certain cathepsins will consume each other, and he is now looking into the possibility of using these little cannibals against themselves as a potential solution.

Dr. Platt left me with a quote from Benjamin E. Mays:

“Not failure, but low aim is sin”.

Benjamin E. Mays

On the science front, his lab is discovering methods to ensure that HIV patients are taking their medication, protecting children with sickle-cell from getting strokes, and even engineering human arteries. On the other hand, he is also involved in project ENGAGES, which gets minority students involved in research, and is even a crucial contributor to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia, through which he takes part in the road race each year and engages with the kids. Dr. Platt is tackling many vast challenges but fears neither regret nor failure because he has learned to look for his part in any mistake and grow from it. Sending a message of positivity, belief, and understanding, he has much to offer to the students of Georgia Tech. Smart enough to make a difference, human enough to care about the people around him – Dr. Platt is truly a force of progress to be reckoned with.