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Summer 2003
  Ingenious by Design
Chemistry professor joins ranks of “creators of the future”
  New head of TUFTS-NEMC named
Ellen Zane joins Tufts
  Cars with a Conscience
Electric vehicles bring Tufts closer to climate control goals
  Microbiology and National Defense
Veterinarian students study bioterrorism defenses
Ingenious by Design

Krishna Kumar, associate professor of chemistry, always knew his research on protein design had terrific potential. At Tufts, he heads a research team that is engineering better proteins—sturdy, durable, and ultimately more effective. He has long held high hopes that this research would someday pay off in areas such as improved drug delivery and antibiotic design.

So it was with surprise and pleasure that this past summer he received a phone call from Technology Review, MIT’s magazine of innovation, confirming he’s right on track.

The magazine, after “combing universities, companies, national laboratories, and other R&D outfits around the globe,” selected him as one of the world’s 100 Top Young Innovators from fields such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, wireless, energy, computing, and medicine. He was included in the magazine’s special fall issue that profiled “brilliant young innovators whose vision and hard work are shaping our future.”

“I am very happy and frankly humbled to be included in this remarkably talented group of creative individuals who have all made paradigm-shifting contributions to their respective fields,” said Kumar, 32. “I think it really validates our approach to this problem.”

Born in Madras, India, Kumar earned his Ph.D. at Brown and pursued postdoctoral research at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, before coming to Tufts in 1998. His Ph.D., he notes, focused on organic chemistry, but at Scripps, “I really became interested in biological problems.” His subsequent inquiries at the interface of chemistry and biology, including studying questions about the origin of life and evolution, have not gone without notice. Last year he was one of only seven faculty in the country to receive the 2003 DuPont Young Professor Grant; he also received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2002.

As for Tech Review, that acknowledgment points to his lab’s inventive approach toward controlling protein structure. Protein structure is intimately linked with function, and, by nature, proteins are fragile and unstable; many protein-based drugs break down and lose effectiveness before they can work in harsh environments. For example, peptide hormones for diabetic patients (for glucose control) lose effectiveness as their three-dimensional form diminishes and degrades.

Kumar’s research team designs proteins atom by atom, combining amino acids—the building blocks of proteins—with unnatural “side chains” to build proteins with properties not found in nature. For instance, his group has incorporated fluorocarbons—the same material found in Teflon—into proteins to make them “non-stick.”

These materials have numerous potential medical uses, including the design of new antibiotics, high-temperature catalysts, drug-delivery portals on human cell membranes, and structural templates for “nanotechnology”—building consumer goods such as computers on a molecular level by piecing together individual atoms.

Technology Review credited Kumar and his team with “creating the future” through research that is breaking down the barriers that have long prevented scientists from designing proteins for medical and chemical applications. “Innovation and technological change are essential to worldwide economic growth,” said Robert Buderi, editor in chief. “Now, more than ever, it’s important to recognize that there is no one technology driving the next wave of success, but rather several that, when fused together, will create another era of significant change for our society.”

Kumar’s team has received one international patent. Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are evaluating Kumar’s techniques as well.

For now, Kumar is busy enough running a laboratory with “really talented students.”“Simple, bold ideas make the biggest impact on how we live and work in the world around us,” he said, as he dashed off to teach a class. “And some of these will result in the big scientific discoveries of the next century.”

New Head of TUFTS-NEMC Named

Ellen Zane, network president of Partners’ Health Care System, has been named president and CEO of Tufts-New England Medical Center (NEMC) and Floating Hospital for Children. She becomes the first woman to lead Tufts-NEMC in its 207-year history.

Tufts president Lawrence S. Bacow, who chaired the search committee, called Zane “one of the nation’s most skilled and capable healthcare leaders. I can’t think of a better set of qualifications to lead Tufts-NEMC and the Floating Hospital than Ellen brings to us. From remarkable leadership at a community hospital to development of an integrated healthcare delivery network at one of the most prominent health care systems in America, Ellen has it all. Her understanding of the healthcare marketplace in New England is unparalleled.”

Over the past ten years, Zane was responsible for developing the Partners’ network of physicians and hospitals into one of the most successful in the country. Previously, she served as CEO at Quincy Hospital in Quincy, Massachusetts, where she oversaw a remarkable financial turnaround. Before that she was the vice president for professional services at the Morton Hospital and Medical Center in Taunton, Massachusetts.

Zane graduated from George Washington University and earned a master’s from the Catholic University of America. She holds honorary degrees from Stonehill College and Curry College.


Cars with a Conscience

In a new partnership with Toyota, Tufts recently welcomed a fleet of alternative energy vehicles that bring the university closer to its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.

Toyota has donated four electric RAV4 sport utility vehicles that will be used in the departments of Public Safety and Mail Services and in a shared vehicle program called Zipcar. In addition, Toyota also has funded a part-time research assistant who will work with the Tufts Climate Initiative (TCI) at the Tufts Institute for the Environment (TIE) to measure the costs and fuel savings of the program. The electric vehicles join the Toyota Prius, a hybrid electric-gasoline car, purchased by the university several years ago.

Sarah Hammond Creighton, project manager for TCI, said Tufts is among several universities in the Northeast to introduce alternative energy and zero-emission vehicles directly into operations. Using the cars for delivering mail, she noted, is a good place to start. “This is an important area for reducing pollution, as electric vehicles are most effective when cars are idling or in urban driving conditions,” she said. “Toyota really wanted to support our efforts to reduce the university’s greenhouse gas emissions. These vehicles are helping us to make a visible and practical connection between driving, the environment, and technology.”

The Toyota partnership includes a collaboration with Zipcar, the shared vehicle program that provides short-term access to electric and fuel-efficient cars at a low cost. Tufts members can rent a Zipcar at a discounted annual fee of $20 plus hourly or daily charges. “Zipcars are spread out like ATM machines all over the greater Boston area,” says Mark Chase, account executive at Zipcar, who received his M.A. in urban and environmental policy from Tufts in 1997. “Zipcar helps solve parking problems in urban areas and provides a way for people to get around without owning a car. We estimate that every Zipcar takes up to ten cars off the road.”

Both efforts are part of a larger commitment to reduce university greenhouse gas emissions through the use of fuel-efficient cars and by simply reducing a reliance on owning a car.

In 1999, former Tufts president John DiBiaggio announced Tufts’ dedication to meeting or exceeding the Kyoto target for greenhouse gas emissions—reducing emissions seven percent lower than 1990 levels by 2012. In 2003, President Lawrence S. Bacow renewed Tufts’ dedication to climate protection by committing the university to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by ten percent.
For more information, go to www.zipcar.com/tufts or www.tufts.edu/tci.


Microbiology and National Defense

The newest advances in the nation’s bioterrorism defenses may come from an unexpected—but important—source: veterinarians. Funded by the largest research grant Tufts has ever received, scientists at the School of Veterinary Medicine will study food- and water-borne illnesses as part of a new nationwide integrated research network.

The $25 million government contract supports the study of ways to detect, identify, and treat diseases terrorists could use to pollute the nation’s food and water supply. Tufts will establish one of five national research locations as part of a seven-year contract from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The research will focus on 13 microorganisms—including salmonella, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and the Norwalk virus—that could be used to infect large numbers of people and animals.

The award recognizes the important role that veterinarians play in addressing public health threats, said President Lawrence S. Bacow. “Nearly 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths every year in the U.S. are due to food-borne pathogens alone—so our ability to quickly diagnose and treat food- and water-borne pathogens is of paramount importance,” he said. “This research will play a critical role in protecting our country from bioterrorist threats.”

Tufts also will establish a Microbiology Research Unit in the new nationwide Food and Waterborne Disease Integrated Research Network.

Dr. Saul Tzipori, an internationally renowned expert on microbiology and infectious diseases, will lead the research initiative. As part of the project, Tufts researchers will work with University of Massachusetts researchers to develop the Center of Botulinum Therapies Research and Development, the first of its kind in the United States, which will focus on diagnosing and treating botulism poisoning, one of the most dangerous bioterrorism threats facing the U.S. and the world today.

Tzipori said that the NIH contract also will help consolidate Tufts’ plan to establish a food- and waterborne pathogen research center that includes a regional water testing facility.