Take 6: Umesh Patel, Cook Biotech

Umesh Patel, president of Cook Biotech and Purdue University alumnus. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

Umesh Patel is president of Cook Biotech Incorporated, a world leader in regenerative medicine. He and Michael Hiles were the company’s first employees when it was established in 1995.

As graduate students in Purdue University’s Hillenbrand Biomedical Engineering Center, Patel and Hiles played instrumental roles in the discovery of and research into the regenerative properties of porcine small intestinal submucosa, or SIS. The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization licensed the innovation to Cook Biotech to bring to market.

Patel earned his degree in Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies in 1986; he was recently named the 2021 Outstanding Alumni Award Recipient. During the awards ceremony, Patel met Logan Noster, a senior Multidisciplinary Engineering major who received SIS products as a baby to repair an omphalocele, which is a birth defect of the abdominal wall.

A story about Noster’s connections with Patel through Cook Biotech’s SIS products and their academic engineering background is online. There is also a 10-minute video on YouTube.

Cook Biotech’s headquarters in the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette. (Photo provided by Cook Biotech Incorporated)

Patel generously shared his time to answer our questions.

Question: How did it feel when you met Logan Noster and you learned SIS helped repair his omphalocele when he was a baby?

Umesh Patel: It was so meaningful to see a product that Cook Biotech developed, based on a Purdue University discovery, that helped a surgeon treat a baby who has grown up to be a talented Purdue engineering student. Cook Biotech’s mission has always been to serve patients. Logan’s story is truly a great example of this, and I am so proud to have been part of a team that helped make it happen.

Umesh Patel (left) and Logan Noster (right) in the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

Q: How would you summarize in a sentence what the SIS technology is and does?

Patel: SIS is a biological scaffold, like the framework of your house, for the blood vessels and cells to grow new tissue, much like plumbing, bricks and drywall in a house.

Cook Biotech’s SIS, or small intestinal submucosa, graft. (Purdue University photo/Jon Garcia)

Q: What is your strongest memory of conducting research to create the SIS technology?

Patel: When I was at Purdue’s Hillenbrand Biomedical Engineering Center, I was working on a project to develop a hernia graft out of SIS. We needed to make a 20×30-cm sheet from material that is only 6 cm wide. I happened to talk to a graduate student in mechanical engineering about composites and how they are made. I borrowed some materials from a lab to try to make a “composite” SIS sheet. It worked, and we patented the idea. I learned that it often helps to talk to people outside your own field of study.

Q: Who is a person in your field whom you believe more people should know about?

Patel: Michael Hiles is my colleague and was the first employee of Cook Biotech. His career has focused on tissue engineering research and, more importantly, translating this research into products that can help patients. He has a unique background in engineering and physiology, and he has numerous publications and patents that have had a big impact on our field.

Michael Hiles (left) and Umesh Patel (right), the first two employees of Cook Biotech, in 1995. (Photo provided by Cook Biotech Incorporated)

Q: What is a discovery that you hope you will see in your lifetime?

Patel: There are so many innovations and discoveries happening now to treat many debilitating diseases. I hope to see regenerative medicine discoveries that will regenerate any tissue or organ in the body during my lifetime.

Q: Has your career aligned with your expectations? Are you doing what you thought you would when you were a child?

Patel: No. When I came to Purdue, I planned to become a physician and used engineering as a pre-med major. Ultimately, I decided engineering, especially biomedical engineering, is where I wanted to be. Being in leadership was not one of my goals. I wanted to develop biomedical products and solve engineering problems. I learned from great mentors at Purdue and Cook what leadership is all about and its challenges. There are still problems to solve — they are just different problems.

Umesh Patel examining an SIS graft at a laboratory at Cook Biotech. (Purdue University photo/Jon Garcia)

Thank you again Umesh Patel for participating in Take 6!