ENG’s Collins Elected to Institute of Medicine


Among 70 distinguished researchers chosen this year

By Art Jahnke

James Collins, an ENG professor of biomedical engineering, was elected this week to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky
James Collins, an ENG professor of biomedical engineering, was elected this week to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

James Collins (BME, MSE, SE), a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering, has been elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The institute, which advises policy makers and professionals on medical and health issues, announced at its 42nd annual meeting yesterday that Collins is one of 70 new members.

“I am thrilled to be elected to the Institute of Medicine and proud to have our lab’s work on antibiotics and antibiotic resistance so honored,” says Collins, whose lab has applied systems and synthetic biology techniques to better understand how antibiotics work and how antibiotic resistance emerges.

Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer, says the University is extraordinarily proud of Collins’ election to the IOM. “The Institute of Medicine is one of the world’s most respected and important scientific organizations,” says Morrison. “Jim’s election is both a reflection of the significance of his contributions and the extraordinary respect that his colleagues have for him. We are thrilled that he has been elected.”

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 being a Warren Distinguished Professor and an ENG professor, Collins is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a founding core faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. His many honors include membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, a MacArthur “genius” award, a National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award, a Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize, a Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Exploration Award, a Sanofi–Institut Pasteur Award, a World Technology Award for Biotechnology, and the Metcalf Cup and Prize, BU’s highest teaching honor. Collins has also been named to Scientific American’s list of top 50 outstanding leaders in science and technology. He serves on the scientific advisory board of several biotechnology companies.

Members of the IOM, who donate their time and expertise to work for the nation’s health, are drawn primarily from the health care professions, but they also come from the natural, social, and behavioral sciences, as well as from law, administration, engineering, and the humanities. They work on projects such as a recent study of the effectiveness of various treatments for traumatic brain injury and recommending which health insurance benefits should be included in Essential Health Benefits packages required by the Affordable Care Act. Other recent projects include studies of people’s vitamin D and calcium needs, improving the process for clearing medical devices for the market, preventing obesity among infants and toddlers, improving Americans’ access to oral health care, preparing for the future of HIV/AIDS in Africa, and ensuring the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Collins is now one of 1,732 active members of the IOM. He joins BU-affiliated members Karen Antman, provost of the Medical Campus and dean of the School of Medicine; George Annas, a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and chair of the School of Public Health’s health law, bioethics, and human rights department; Joel Alpert, a MED professor emeritus of pediatrics, sociomedical sciences, and community medicine and an SPH professor emeritus of health law; Larry Culpepper, a MED professor of family medicine; Richard Egdahl, a retired University Professor and founding director of the Health Policy Institute at the School of Management; Barbara Gilchrest, a MED professor and chair emerita of dermatology; and Gerald Keusch, an SPH professor and an assistant to the president.

The Institute of Medicine is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public. Established in 1970, it is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which was chartered under President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Nearly 150 years later, the National Academy of Sciences has expanded into what is collectively known as the National Academies, which comprises the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council, and the IOM.