The prize is given annually to an American biomedical researcher who has made significant, progressive contributions to medicine. The award consists of a specially commissioned medal, a $50,000 honorarium and an invitation to present the keynote lecture during the University’s annual campus-wide showcase of scientific research
. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both the annual showcase and Collins’ lecture have been postponed until 2021 at a date to be determined.
“Dr. Collins is defining what’s possible in the disciplines of synthetic and systems biology. His highly creative work applying engineering design principles to molecular biology has generated numerous new diagnostics and therapeutics with wide application to medicine,” said Anantha Shekhar, M.D., Ph.D.
, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine. “It is our honor to recognize him with the School of Medicine’s most prestigious award.”
A seminal 2000 publication
describing the successful creation of a stable, synthetic gene circuit in Escherichia coli bacteria has been cited more than 4,000 times and marked the arrival of an important new discipline in biomedicine. Collins later demonstrated that synthetic gene networks could be linked with a cell’s genetic circuitry as a regulatory mechanism to create programmable cells for biomedical applications.
More recently, Collins has created engineered microbes and whole-cell biosensors to serve as in vivo diagnostics and therapeutics. One innovative platform that he and colleagues developed embeds freeze-dried, cell-free synthetic gene networks onto paper
and other materials with a wide range of potential clinical and research applications.
The resulting materials contain properties of a living cell, are stable at room temperature and can be activated by simply adding water. Collins’s work on freeze-dried, cell-free synthetic biology has established a platform for a new class of rapid, programmable in vitro diagnostics
for emerging pathogens, including drug-resistant bacteria and viruses. Collins and his team currently are developing a rapid self-activating COVID-19 face mask as a wearable diagnostic
CREDIT: James J. Collins
CAPTION: James J. Collins, Ph.D.