Dr. Treena Arinzeh, 39, thinks her aptitude in science and math may come from her father, who was a biochemist. She also thinks her desire to find ways to treat debilitating conditions stems from her father, who, when she was in high school, had a stroke and became paralyzed.

“Just having seen him in that condition…I felt that there must be a way, coming up with some new strategies, to try to help those that are significantly disabled to be able to function somewhat normally in life,” said Dr. Arinzeh.

In the world of adult stem cell therapy, scientists are trying to figure out how to use stem cells to treat conditions such as damaged bone or cartilage, and injuries to the spinal cord. Some advances are closer than others, such as repairing cartilage by using stem cells instead of using metal and plastic joint replacements, but there’s still a ways to go to find adult stem cell therapy’s full potential, according to Dr. William Hunter, chair of biomedical engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

“From my point of view we really don’t know that much right now, so we have an awful lot to find out,” said Dr. Hunter. “The main things is, how do you control whether [the stem cell] will turn into a cell that will generate bone or a cell that will generate cartilage?”

Dr. Arinzeh’s discovery that adult stem cells can be transplanted from one person to another without rejection was a major advance in the fields. Her other significant contribution to stem cell research deals with Dr. Hunter’s main focus: how to get adult stem cells to develop into bone or cartilage cells.

Taking time out from working in the laboratory, Dr. Arinzeh is also doing her part to address another problem: the lack of minorities in the engineering field. Dr. Arinzeh talks with junior high and high school students to encourage them to consider careers in engineering.

“I think the younger people out there just need to identify with these senior scientists, and if they see that, ‘hey, she looks like me,’ or ‘he looks like me,’ then it becomes a little bit more acceptable, that maybe they can actually be that person in the future.”