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Knowing an Indian-Origin Tumour Biologist, Receives America’s Highest Science Award

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A mesmerizing moment to take pause and look back at the eventful journey, arrived for a 65 years old, Indian-American, IIT Kanpur alumnus Prof. Rakesh K. Jain, who received the America’s highest science award ‘National Medal of Science’ from U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday.

Prof. Rakesh K. Jain is currently the Andrew Werk Cook Professor of Tumor Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital in the Harvard Medical School. He also holds the position of Director of the E.L. Steele Laboratories for Tumor Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation’ are awarded annually to recognize those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science, engineering and mathematics. This year Prof. Jain received this honor along with 16 other recipients. The award ceremony was earlier scheduled for 22 January but was postponed to 19 May due to a major snow storm. Here is the video of the event which took place at The White House, USA on 19 May, 2:30 PM EDT. 

The newest recipients of the ‘National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation’ were declared on December, 22, 2015 in a press statement released by Press Secretary’s Office, White House. According to the press release, the “National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation are our nation’s highest honors for achievement and leadership in advancing the fields of science and technology”.

Let us take a close look at the inspiring journey of Prof. Jain.

 

Initial Days of Study and Career

Prof. Jain completed his B.Tech in Chemical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur in 1972. Then he received his M.S. and Ph.D under Dr. James Wei in Chemical Engineering from University of Delaware, Newark, DE.

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In 1976, he joined Columbia University, New York, NY as an Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. Later, became Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering in Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA in 1983.

In 1991, he became the Andrew Werk Cook Professor of Tumor Biology (Radiation Oncology) in Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. and Director of Edwin L. Steele Laboratories for Tumor Biology in the Department of Radiation Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. In the same year, he also gained the position of Affiliated Faculty in Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

In 2001, he also became a member of Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program of Harvard Medical School.

 

Contribution in Science and Research

Since the initial days of Prof. Jain’s research career, he was focused on improving the delivery and efficacy of anti-cancer therapeutics. Initially he hypothesized that the abnormal tumor microenvironment promotes the progression of tumor and causes resistance in treatment.

Therefore, to understand the complex biology of tumors, he developed sophisticated imaging technologies and animal as well as mathematical models.

Some of these innovative imaging technologies are- multi-photon intravital microscopy, second-harmonic generation microscopy, fluorescence correlation microscopy, optical frequency domain imaging, quantum dot nanotechnology, wide-field endoscopy as well as transparent windows to visualize biological events in tumors growing in mice.

According to another hypothesis of Prof. Jain, those agents which can help in the “normalization” of the microenvironment of the tumor can improve the outcome of the treatment. Thereby, Prof.Jain and team discovered anti-fibrosis drugs which are capable of “normalization of the microenvironment which can improve the delivery and efficacy of molecules and nanomedicines“.

Prof. Jain along with his team worked on identification of tumor barriers, discovery of the role of host cells in tumor growth, discovery of new principles to overcome vascular barriers for efficient delivery of drugs and oxygen in tumor.

Prof. Jain collaborated in 22 multidisciplinary translational trials in several malignancies and identified potential biomarkers of resistance and benefit.

Prof. Jain and team generated endothelial and smooth muscle cells from human embryonic stem (hES) cells and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and now working further for identification of new paradigm for vascular engineering.

His work has also provided new insights into the treatment of prostate and breast cancer.

These are just a glimpse of the mammoth research work done by him and his all the research findings are explicated in his 641 publications and 6 patents. Vast numbers of his publications have received more than 70,000 citations.

Prof. Jain has guided more than 200 doctoral and postdoctoral fellows from diverse backgrounds like engineering, physics, immunology, chemistry, radiology, mathematics and so on.   

 

Achievements and Honors

Prof. Jain’s achievements and honors speak all about his excellence in science. Prof. Jain has received about 80 awards and honors for his research work till now, among them some of the remarkable ones are

  1. Guggenheim Fellowship (1983)
  2. Founding Fellow in American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (1992)  
  3. Elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) (2003)
  4. Elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) (2004)
  5. Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2008)
  6. Elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) (2009)
  7. ASCO Science of Oncology Award and Lecture, American Society of Clinical Oncology (2012)
  8. One of 50 Oncology Luminaries, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) (2014)
  9. One of the top 1% cited researchers in Clinical Medicine, Web of Science (2014), (2015)
  10. Received Honorary Doctorate from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium; Duke University, U.S. and             IIT- Kanpur ,India  (2015)
  11. United States National Medal of Science (2016)

Overall in 24 renowned Journals which include PNAS, 2012 Nature Reviews Cancer, Nature Clinical Practice Oncology, he served as a member of Editorial Board. He was in the list of Highly Cited Researchers 2015 of Thomson-Reuters. He is currently in the advisory panels of numerous government, industry and academia or has served as one, in many of them. One of the position is the Consultant in the Sun Pharma Advanced Research Company, Ltd. (SPARC), India (2015-present).

The ‘National Medal of Science’ was created by statute in 1959 and administered by National Science Foundation for White House. Nominations are received by the U.S. President from a committee of presidential appointees based on their knowledge and contribution to chemistry, engineering, computing, mathematics and the biological, behavioral/social and physical sciences.

The notable and excellent contributions made by Prof. Jain in the field of science truly makes him a very deserving candidate for one of the highest awards of America-’National Medal of Science’.

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