Richards-Kortum Named MacArthur Fellow For Work in Global Health

Houston—Rice University’s Rebecca Richards-Kortum is among this year’s recipients of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, known as the “genius grants.”

A bioengineering professor at Rice, Richards-Kortum became the first woman and youngest faculty member to earn Rice’s highest academic rank of university professor. She directs the Rice Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering and she also leads the Rice 360 Institute of Global Health and is the founder of Beyond Traditional Borders.

It is through those latter organizations that she has taken the concepts discussed in her classroom to affect healthcare on a global scale. Students in those programs are encouraged to design and implement medical technologies; in many cases, these efforts target populations in Africa and other underserved regions.

Among the notable projects that Richards-Kortum has developed is a low-cost continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) system that allows newborns with respiratory problems to breathe easier. At Xconomy’s Houston 2035 conference last year, she spoke about how many hospitals in African countries could not afford the typical $6,000 price tag for the machines.

Under her guidance, the students designed a CPAP machine that cost about $400. In one Malawi hospital neonatal ward, the mortality rate was reduced by 46 percent as a result of the breathing device, according to Rice.

Richards-Kortum receives a grant of $625,000 to use as she pleases, as is customary for the MacArthur. She has said she plans to use the funds to continue her work in Malawi, according to media reports.

Rice reports that Richards-Kortum is the third Houstonian and 13th Texan to receive a MacArthur award.

The foundation says its fellows come from all disciplines and are chosen for “exceptional creativity, as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and manifest promise for important future advances.” Recipients are chosen from about 2,000 confidential nominations each year, and fewer than 1,000 MacArthur Fellowships have been awarded since the program began in 1981.

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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