Collins Elected to National Institute of Medicine

By Mark Dwortzan

Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE)
Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE)

The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM), which provides information and advice concerning health and science policy, elected Professor James J. Collins (BME, MSE, SE) as one of 70 new members at its 42nd annual meeting. Regarded as one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine, election to the IOM recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, healthcare and public health.

“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,” said Collins, whose lab has applied systems and synthetic biology techniques to better understand how antibiotics work and how antibiotic resistance emerges.

In the past three years alone, Collins and researchers in his lab have advanced a new method that combines selected sugars with a class of antibiotics to obliterate bacteria that cause chronic infections; discovered a new mechanism for antibiotic resistance; and identified a new pathway by which superbugs become resistant to multiple antibiotics. 

Collins is now one of 1,732 active members of the IOM, at least one quarter of which are selected from fields outside the health professions, such as engineering, social sciences, law and the humanities. Active members make a commitment to volunteer their service on IOM committees, boards and other activities, including research projects on topics ranging from environmental factors in breast cancer to treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

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,” National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award, Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize, Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Exploration Award, Sanofi – Institut Pasteur Award, World Technology Award for Biotechnology, 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.

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