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Kavraki, Mikos elected to Institute of Medicine

2012-10-15

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.

lydia05"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 National Academies , 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 interactions.

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."

tony05Mikos, 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 medicine."

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.