Two Rice University scientists were elected to
membership in the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies today.
Lydia Kavraki, the Noah Harding Professor of Computer
Science and professor of bioengineering, and Antonios Mikos, the Louis Calder
Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, are part
of the new class of inductees named today at the organization's annual meeting
in Washington, D.C.
"These honored Rice faculty are both leaders in
their disciplines and are exemplary members of the School of Engineering,"
said Ned Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice's George R. Brown
School of Engineering
. "It is very gratifying to have the IOM honor engineers and their unique
contributions to medicine and to the betterment of human health. Notably, both
Lydia and Tony joined the Rice faculty as assistant professors and have
developed and expanded their illustrious careers at Rice."
IOM is one of four organizations that make up the
, along with the National Academy of Sciences (created by President Abraham
Lincoln in 1863), the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research
Council. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science,
technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter.
Members take part in the organization's health and
science policy work. They are selected based on nominations by peers for their
professional qualifications, accomplishments and continued involvement in
fields related to health and medicine, their reputations as scholars and the
relevance of their current expertise to the work of IOM.
Kavraki, who joined the Rice faculty in 1996, is a
computer scientist and winner of the prestigious Grace Murray Hopper Award who specializes in algorithms relating to
bioinformatics and biomedicine. She began her career investigating robotics
while earning her Ph.D. at Stanford. "While I was there and then much more
so when I came to Rice, I realized that robotics engineering principles could
be applied to understanding the design and function of drugs," she said.
Kavraki's Rice laboratory has pioneered computational
analysis algorithms she expects will speed the delivery of drugs to market.
"A new drug you get today is actually a very old drug that was discovered
10 years ago," she said. "We're developing new tools that can help
shorten this process and also help identify more reliable leads for drugs.
"It’s not practical to test hundreds of thousands of
drugs to find one that works for a disease," she said. "Computational
work can help formulate hypotheses and isolate compounds that will be carried
down the pipeline. It can also help explore unintended effects, such as binding
to unrelated targets. A lot can be done." Kavraki's research investigates
the shape and flexibility of molecules and molecular complexes, characterizes
their functional parts and aspires to improve our understanding of their potential
Kavraki, who holds a joint appointment at the Graduate
Program of Structural and Computational Biology and Molecular Biophysics at
Baylor College of Medicine, said the IOM membership is much greater than a
personal honor. "It's a huge honor for the lab, not only for me. I didn't
do this work by myself; it's by a number of collaborators, postdocs, graduate
and undergraduate students, and I plan to celebrate with them."
Mikos, a member of the Rice faculty since 1992, is a
pioneer in the field of tissue engineering and was inducted into the National
Academy of Engineering just two weeks ago. Based at the university's
BioScience Research Collaborative
, Mikos is director of the Rice Center for Excellence in Tissue Engineering and
co-founded three leading journals on the topic.
"Every award is great, but this one is special, as
it opens new horizons to an engineer," Mikos said. Of approximately 70
members named annually by the IOM, at least a quarter must be selected from
fields, including engineering, outside the health professions.
"It's a different crowd," Mikos acknowledged,
"and I don't think I could have done it without all the collaborations
we've had with clinicians here in Houston and around the world."
Mikos, who holds 25 patents and whose research has been
cited more than 32,000 times, specializes in the creation of nontoxic
biomaterials for scaffolds, which serve as templates for soft tissues or bone
lost to injury or disease, enable their regeneration and then harmlessly
degrade, leaving only healthy tissue behind. Some can be injected into the
body, where they harden and provide a framework for new tissue to grow.
Scaffolds also show potential for controlled drug delivery and as nonviral
vectors for gene therapy.
Mikos expects to serve both the IOM and engineering
academy based upon his expertise in tissue engineering and regenerative
medicine. "For some people, they're the same, but there's a clear
distinction: Tissue engineering represents the enabling technologies for the
development of regenerative medicine products to support the practice of
Mikos said his laboratory is working on projects for the
Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine as well as several funded by
the National Institutes of Health. The defense work involves the development of
new biomaterials to address devastating bone defects of servicemen and women
wounded on the battlefield. "Some technologies have already been
translated from the laboratory to the clinic, and that is very exciting and
gratifying," he said of the cooperative effort with the University of
Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Kavraki and Mikos join two others on the Rice
faculty among IOM members. Anthony Gorry, the Friedkin Professor of Management
and professor of computer science, was elected to the IOM in 1991, and Baruch
Brody, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities and a professor of
philosophy, was elected in 2001.