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2010 Pritzker Distinguished Lecturer Rebecca Richards-Kortum

Biomedical engineering aids developing countries

Rebecca Richards-KortumStanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering
and Professor of Electrical
and Computer Engineering Rice University

Rebecca Richards-Kortum was named as the 2010 Pritzker Distinguished Lecturer for biomedical engineering aids in developing countries.

Every year 8 million children die from treatable diseases and preventable causes. Biomedical engineers can play a key role in reducing those numbers significantly, according to Richards-Kortum, at this year’s Biomedical Engineering Society’s Annual Meeting.

Often times clinics in developing nations lack basics such as running water and electricity, said Richards-Kortum. While working in Malawi, Richards-Kortum met a nurse who built an incubator out of plywood, plexiglass, and light bulbs. She asked if her students could work on creating a better design for the Malawi clinic. They ended up designing a warming crib that uses durable switches to automatically control the temperature. Simple, inexpensive devices like the incubator can significantly improve the survival rate of children in these poor nations, she said.

For two decades, Richards-Kortum has focused on translating research that integrates advances in nanotechnology and molecular imaging with microfabrication technologies to develop optical imaging systems that are inexpensive, portable, and provide point-of-care diagnosis.

This basic and translational research is highly collaborative and has led to new technologies to improve the early detection of cancers and other diseases, especially in impoverished settings. Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) use micro-scale technology to design low-cost, reusable platforms for point-of-care (POC) diagnostics. When used with contrast agents, these rugged and portable optical imaging systems detect molecular signatures of pre-cancer, assess tumor margins, and monitor a patient’s response to therapy. Over the past few years, Richards-Kortum and collaborators have translated these technologies from North America to both low- and medium-resource developing countries (Botswana, India, Taiwan, Mexico, and Brazil).

Watch a video interview with Richards-Kortum at BMES: