The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) has announced that Vice President for Research Jonathan Dordick will receive the 2015 Food, Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering Division Award in Chemical Engineering. This national award recognizes an individual’s outstanding chemical engineering contribution in the food, pharmaceutical, and/or bioengineering field, which are of fundamental nature or of practical significance to industry and industrial practice.
Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, is being honored for “his fundamental advances in drug discovery, bioengineered materials, functional nanocomposites, and biocatalysis that have spawned new technological applications.” He will receive the award at the AIChE Annual Meeting, Nov. 8-13, in Salt Lake City.
“We are very proud of Jonathan Dordick’s research, which uses leading-edge nano- and biotechnologies to answer great threats to human health, such as antibiotic resistance in deadly bacteria,” said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson. “His laboratory brings together collaborators in fields as diverse as microbiology and materials science—and has contributed to our vision of Rensselaer as ‘The New Polytechnic,’ a great crossroads for talent across disciplines, enabled by the most advanced technologies, and focused on addressing global challenges.”
Jonathan Dordick is the vice president for research and the Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer. He is a faculty member in the Howard. P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer, and holds joint appointments in the departments of Biomedical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Biology. He is a past director of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. Prior to joining Rensselaer in 1998, Dordick held chemical engineering faculty appointments at the University of Iowa.
Dordick’s research group at Rensselaer includes chemical engineers, bioengineers, materials scientists, biologists, chemists, and microbiologists all focused on gaining a quantitative understanding of biological principles and applying them to advance bioengineering, nanobiotechnology, drug discovery, and biomanufacturing. Specific areas of current research include enzyme structure and function at biological-material interfaces, high-throughput drug and functional materials discovery, and biologically inspired nanocomposites for 2-D and 3-D functional architectures.
Chemicals in pharmaceutical drugs can obviously save lives. But as more and stronger chemicals have been introduced, our basic knowledge of the broader health impact of all these chemicals has not kept up with the rapid pace of innovation. There is exceptionally little information on how chemicals in our drugs and also in the environment around us, including on the food we eat, impact some of the most important cells in our body: stem cells. Without basic knowledge and tests on the impact of chemicals on our stem cells, we may be unwittingly damaging essential regenerative functions in our body.
Bioengineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, have been awarded a more than $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how chemicals in drugs and our environment impact our stem cells.
Leading the research effort for Rensselaer is Jonathan Dordick, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) and the Howard P. Isermann ’42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Dordick is co-principal investigator on the grant with David Schaffer, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and co-director of the Berkeley Stem Cell Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
The researchers hypothesize that stem cells, which are essential for the replacement of dead and damaged tissues in the body, react in fundamentally different ways to chemicals than other cells in the body. The grant will allow them to study the impacts of known chemical compounds on adult stem cells, providing the most substantive information to date on how many of the chemicals used every day around the world in drugs, pesticides, and other products impact stem cells. The work also will seek to develop a new predictive safety screening tool that manufacturers can use to test the toxicity of new chemical compounds on stem cells before their drug or other product reaches the market. The test will be done without the use of animals and at speeds far faster than current tests.
“When you look at the toxicity of drugs or other chemicals in our environment, you want to understand the response that all the different cells in the body have to that compound,” Dordick said. “Most current toxicity screens used by manufacturers focus on a narrow range of cell types. Stem cells typically have not been included, although there is now a rapidly growing interest in the pharmaceutical industry in using such cells. This greatly limits our understanding of what a new drug or chemical will have on the body. Vast amounts of money are wasted on the failed development process and, more importantly, people’s health could be unknowingly put at risk.”