Peirce-Cottler, Papin to be Inducted into Medical and Biological Engineering Elite

Shayn Peirce-Cottler and Jason Papin, both biomedical engineering professors at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, are being inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering’s College of Fellows.

“I am extremely honored,” Peirce-Cottler said. “AIMBE is an organization of the leaders in our profession and the College of Fellows includes the most respected leaders in our discipline who have national reputations in their respective research fields.”

“It’s certainly a privilege,” Papin said. “This group includes people who I look up to as mentors and that have made tremendous contributions in science and engineering. To be associated with this group is super cool.”

Peirce-Cottler was elected for outstanding contributions to multi-scale computational modeling of tissue growth and adaptation and Papin for outstanding contributions to the development and application of computational methods to biochemical networks in metabolic engineering and infectious disease.

“The major diseases of our time — diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease — adversely affect tissues and organs throughout the entire body,” Peirce-Cottler said. “One thing these diseases have in common is that they cause our cells to behave in abnormal ways — e.g. cells divide when they shouldn’t, die when they shouldn’t, and secrete things they shouldn’t. But these abnormal cell behaviors are complex; different cells misbehave in different ways, and they change their behaviors over time.”

To Papin, becoming a fellow carries a certain prestige with it that will help the field of computational biology earn greater recognition.

“My scientific contributions have been in the development of computational approaches for understanding biology,” Papin said. “My group develops computer algorithms that integrate biological data to create models of cellular networks, and we use those models to try to understand how they function and how they malfunction in disease.” 

Professor Fred Epstein, chair of the UVA Biomedical Engineering Department, praised Peirce-Cottler and Papin for the unique insights provided by their research.

“Professors Peirce-Cottler and Papin are both pioneers in systems biology and computational bioengineering, a research area where the UVA Biomedical Engineering Department is among the very best in the nation. It is a great honor for the Biomedical Engineering Department, the Schools of Medicine and Engineering, and for the University when our outstanding scholars are recognized by prominent institutes such as AIMBE.”

Peirce-Cottler’s research uses computer modeling to try to understand and predict how disease affects cells and to engineer therapies that can re-establish normal cell behavior.

“What makes my computer models unique is that I simulate collections of cells — tens, hundreds or thousands of cells — in order to investigate underlying mechanisms of disease and to identify putative therapies,” she said. “My computer models also suggest ways to regenerate wounded or injured tissues by controlling cell behaviors with drugs or stem cells.”

Papin uses his models to predict new drug targets or to identify key components of the cells.

“Then we perform experiments to validate those predictions and thus provide justification for making the next steps in addressing a particular challenge,” he said.

Peirce-Cottler noted that biomedical engineering is only about 50 years old, making it a relatively new engineering discipline.

“Our jobs are so interdisciplinary,” she said. “We work at the intersection of medicine and engineering. Our discipline brings these two fields together. A lot of the work we do has important and impactful outcomes on human health. New medical devices and surgical strategies, medical imaging approaches and diagnostic instruments, and novel drugs and therapies — biomedical engineers innovate in each of these areas.”

Papin agreed.

“I think what’s cool is this brings overall recognition to the department,” he said. “We think UVA’s Biomedical Engineering Department is one of the best in the world. The number of our faculty elected as AIMBE members over the past few years illustrates that point.”

A formal induction ceremony will be held during AIMBE’s 25th annual meeting at the National Academy of Sciences Great Hall in Washington, D.C., on April 4. Peirce-Cottler and Papin will be inducted along with 160 colleagues who make up the AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2016.

The College of Fellows is comprised of the top 2 percent of medical and biological engineers in the country. The most accomplished and distinguished engineering and medical school chairs, research directors, professors, innovators and successful entrepreneurs comprise the College of Fellows.

“The AIMBE College of Fellows includes thought-leaders and mentors who I have admired and looked up to since I was an undergraduate student majoring in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins,” Peirce-Cottler said. “Reaching this milestone in my own career has underscored the realization that I now have the responsibility to be a role model and mentor for the next generation of biomedical engineers.”

AIMBE Fellows are regularly recognized for their contributions in teaching, research, and innovation. They have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Science and the Presidential Medal of Technology and Innovation, and many also are members of the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences.

“This award is a formal recognition that my research has had an impact on the field of biomedical engineering and that I am regarded as a leader by my peers,” Peirce-Cottler said. “I am one of many of my colleagues in the Biomedical Engineering Department at UVA who has received this honor over the past few years, which is evidence that our department is one of the very best in the country.”

AIMBE’s mission is to recognize excellence in, and advocate for, the fields of medical and biological engineering in order to advance society. Since 1991, AIMBE‘s College of Fellows has led the way for technological growth and advancement in the fields of medical and biological engineering. Fellows have helped revolutionize medicine and related fields in order to enhance and extend the lives of people all over the world. They have also successfully advocated for public policies that have enabled researchers and business-makers to further the interests of engineers, teachers, scientists, clinical practitioners and, ultimately, patients.