Two UT faculty honored by National Academy of Medicine

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This week, two UT faculty were recognized by the National Academy of Medicine.

Nicholas Peppas, professor of chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, medicine and pharmacy at UT Austin, became the first engineer to receive the Adam Yarmolinsky Medal from the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) for his research at the university.

He is the only NAM member to receive this prestigious medal. It is awarded to a member from a discipline outside the health and medical sciences who has contributed to the mission of the NAM over a significant period of time, according to the NAM website.

Peppas is regarded as a pioneer in drug delivery, and he has been awarded the 2015 International Award from the European Society for Biomaterials and the 2012 Founders Award from the National Academy of Engineering.

Peppas specializes in biomedical engineering and also serves as the director of the Institute for Biomaterials, Drug Delivery and Regenerative Medicine at UT. Peppas said he is surprised to be the first engineer to receive the award.

“It is unusual that I am the first engineer to receive this award,” Peppas said. “But in the long-run, we bioengineers all work in the medical field.”

Over the course of his career, Peppas and his team have developed a number of medical devices, medical products and drug delivery systems. His contributions include lenses for cataract patients, new materials to replace arteries and veins and artificial vocal cords.

Peppas said he is happy to represent Texas.

“I believe that Texas has become one of the leading states in the country in medical research and treatment of patients,” Peppas said. “Working here allows me to interact with a wide range of distinguished researchers and educators in my fields of expertise.”

Peppas said he plans on retiring in about 10 years, but in the meantime, he hopes to work on solutions for autoimmune diseases like type one diabetes. 

Dr. Karen DeSalvo, a professor of internal medicine and population health at Dell Medical School, was inducted this week into the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest  honors in the field of healthcare. 

DeSalvo has worked for the city of New Orleans, where she helped rebuild healthcare infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina, and even in the Obama administration, where she led efforts to modernize the country’s healthcare system. 

“My goal was to make the healthcare system a better value for everybody involved … and advance efforts to improve the broader health of the community,” DeSalvo said.

Healthcare does not exist in a vacuum — the state of the community plays a critical role in determining an individual’s health outcome, DeSalvo added.

“To improve a community’s health, you can’t just give them the right medicine for diabetes,” she said. “You have to provide them with access to healthy foods as well.”

She said her greatest accomplishment is making patient healthcare data more accessible to themselves as well as to healthcare providers.

Her initiatives made it possible for scattered data to be collected and organized so that all of it can be viewed on a smartphone. 

“I think my model is going to be really important to the future of health in this country,” DeSalvo said.

At Dell Medical School, she said she aims to move beyond the medical system to focus on creating healthy communities. 

“We have an eye on not only providing high-value care to Central Texas, but also understanding how we can ensure that people live in as healthy of an environment as possible,” she said. 

DeSalvo’s role at Dell Medical School will allow her to directly impact the health of Austin, where she grew up, she said.

“The opportunity for me to take what I have learned in my professional life and be part of improving the health of the community of Austin and families living in low income communities is important to me, and I’m thankful for that.” 

Editor's note: This article previously said Peppas was one of three to receive the award. And earlier version also said Peppas conducted research at a university in China. These statements are incorrect. The Texan regrets this error.