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Week of 12 February 1999

Vol. II, No. 23

Feature Article

Nationwide search initiated

ENG Dean DeLisi to step down, return to full-time teaching and research

After leading the BU College of Engineering through a period of unprecedented growth and development, Charles DeLisi, an internationally recognized teacher and researcher who has been hailed as the father of the Human Genome Project, will step down this year to return to full-time research and teaching.

"Working with Chancellor John Silber, President Jon Westling, and Provost Dennis Berkey on the development of the College has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career," says DeLisi. "But now it is time to return to the laboratory and the classroom."

Appointed dean in 1990, DeLisi also actively pursued his research interests at BU. He has brought in more than $4 million in grants, which have helped him establish the Molecular Engineering Research Laboratory, led to the publication of more than 50 research papers, and sponsored some 30 graduate students and research scientists.

DeLisi and ENG recently received a $2.5 million training grant from the National Science Foundation to launch a major new University-wide graduate program in the emerging field of bioinformatics. The award was one of just 17 selected from over 600 applications across the country.

"The mapping and sequencing of complete genomes are generating biological information that holds the key to many of the basic processes of life," DeLisi says of the Human Genome Project, a federally funded effort to identify all of the estimated 80,000 genes in human DNA. "Our goal in the bioinformatics program is to train individuals both in the biological sciences and in computational sciences so they can effectively organize, synthesize, understand, and apply this information."

DeLisi, a frequent advisor to the federal government and a widely sought lecturer, was honored with an Exceptional Service Award last spring by the U.S. Department of Energy for his seminal role in initiating the Human Genome Project. "He was the critical person in getting the program started," says Dr. George Bell, senior fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "He stimulated the National Institutes of Health to take the matter seriously. Without his initiative, the program might never have gotten going. He really made a tremendous difference."

DeLisi also spearheaded the recent start-up of Pharmadyne, a spin-off company that is combining advances in genomics with recent breakthroughs in cellular immunology to develop antiviral therapies. "If successful, this work could lead to a revolution in the treatment of viral diseases," says DeLisi. The company is currently focusing on AIDS.

"During his nine-year tenure as dean, Charles DeLisi has transformed the College into an educational and research institution of true excellence and leadership nationally," says Provost Dennis Berkey. "We have initiated a national search to locate a dean who will build on this remarkable legacy."

Under DeLisi's stewardship, ENG has undergone dramatic changes in several key areas, including research funding, faculty recruitment, student qualifications, and enrollment. Research funding has risen by 369 percent, to more than $18 million annually, at the College, which now has 100 faculty members, with senior researchers and junior faculty recruited from such institutions as MIT, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Georgia Tech, Stanford, and Harvard. In addition, test scores of incoming students have increased significantly during DeLisi's tenure, with the average SAT score for entering freshmen rising by 80 points and the combined GRE scores for entering doctoral students surpassing 1450.

DeLisi was awarded his doctorate in physics from New York University and later served as a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry and a senior lecturer in engineering and applied science at Yale. He subsequently worked as a senior scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and as senior scientist and lab chief at the National Institutes of Health. In 1985 he was appointed director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Health and Environmental Research Programs, where he initiated the Human Genome Project. DeLisi then became department chairman at Mt. Sinai Medical School in New York and served there until his appointment as ENG dean and professor of biomedical engineering in 1990.