By Mark Dwortzan
Professor James Collins (BME, MSE, SE) was announced as the winner of the World Technology Award for Biotechnology during a gala ceremony at the United Nations on October 26. Presented at the culmination of the World Technology Network’s (WTN), two-day 2011 World Technology Summit & Awards conference in New York, the Awards recognized Collins and 30 other individuals and organizations from more than 60 countries around the world for doing the most innovative and impactful work in science and technology.
“I am delighted to have our lab’s work in synthetic biology and antibiotic drug discovery recognized with the World Technology Award for Biotechnology,” said Collins. “It was a great honor to be included with so many highly innovative technologists and technology-focused companies.”
The other four finalists in the Biotechnology category included two Nobel Laureates—Paul Greengard, founder and chair of the Scientific Advisory Board at Intra-Cellular Therapies, and H. Robert Horvitz, co-founder of Epizyme, Inc. Individual and corporate finalists in 20 different technology-related categories ranging from information technology hardware to entertainment were inducted as WTN Fellows during the ceremony.
Nominees for the 2011 World Technology Awards were selected by the WTN Fellows (previous finalists and award winners) through an intensive, global process lasting several months. Winners were selected from among the finalists with the input of five prominent advisors that included inventor/futurist/author Ray Kurzweil; the former director of Science and Policy Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); and leading technology journalists such as Technology Review editor/publisher Jason Pontin. This year’s Summit was convened by the WTN in association with TIME, Fortune, CNN, Technology Review, Science, AAAS, New York Academy of Sciences and Novartis.
A pioneer in both synthetic and systems biology, Collins is developing innovative ways to design and reprogram gene networks within bacteria and other organisms to attack tumors, direct stem cell development and perform other desired tasks that could bring about cheaper drugs, more effective treatments of antibiotic-resistant infections, and clean energy solutions. Also a trailblazer in efforts to improve function of physiological and biological systems, he has spearheaded several new medical devices such as vibrating insoles to improve balance in elderly people and a device to treat stroke-induced brain failure.
In addition to serving BU as William F. Warren Distinguished Professor, University Professor, and co-director of the Center for BioDynamics, Collins is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and founding core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. His many honors include membership in the National Academy of Engineering, a MacArthur “Genius Award,” a National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award, the Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize, the Metcalf Cup and Prize (BU’s highest teaching honor), and being named on the Scientific American list of top 50 outstanding leaders in science and technology. Collins serves on the scientific advisory board of several biotechnology companies.
The WTN has presented the World Technology Awards since 2000 as a way to honor pioneers in science and technology and related fields engaged in “the innovative work of the greatest likely long-term significance.” The organization strives to “encourage serendipity”—the happy accidents of colliding ideas and new relationships that cause the biggest breakthroughs for individuals and institutions—through global and regional events, to help make connections among its members and to examine the likely implications and possible applications of emerging technologies.