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Kopecek Named to Engineering Academy

Jindrich Kopecek

February 8, 2011 – University of Utah pharmaceutical chemist and bioengineer Jindrich Kopecek – who has pioneered the use of chain-like molecules called polymers to deliver medicines to their targets – has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

“I am pleased that I was recognized by my peers,” Kopecek says of the honor, among the highest afforded to engineers. “It’s a great achievement.”

But he adds that the honor, which recognizes the body of scientific work produced in his laboratory, is “not only my achievement but the achievement of my students and postdocs, and they should be acknowledged.”

The election of Kopecek – among 68 new members and nine foreign associates named Tuesday – brings to 36 the number of present and former University of Utah faculty members elected during their careers to one of the National Academies, which include the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Engineering.

Kopecek is a distinguished professor in two university departments: bioengineering, and pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry. He and the other new academy members were honored for making “outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice or education.” He was honored specifically “for contributions to the design of hydrogel biomaterials and polymeric drug delivery systems.”

Kopecek began studying biomedical polymers in the early 1960s, when the field was new. He has devoted his life’s work to biomedical polymers and hydrogels, which are biomedical polymers suspended in water. He became an early pioneer in the field of targeted drug delivery. In the 1970s, he invented a copolymer named HPMA, which was used first as a blood plasma expander, and later to carry cancer treatment drugs to targeted cells.

He now leads the university’s Biomedical Polymers Laboratory to further the research and development of targeted drug delivery for various cancers and osteoporosis.

Kopecek and his team are exploring several methods to treat ovarian cancer. He is also developing a new multiple-therapy approach to target prostate cancer with water-soluble HPMA copolymers.

Another current project in Kopecek’s lab is the design of “smart” biomaterials for drug delivery that sense specific environmental changes in the body and adjust accordingly to get medicines to their target.

University of UtahFaculty in the National Academies

Below are lists of other present or former University of Utah faculty elected to one or more of the National Academies. Note that some were elected before or after their tenure at the university:

  • National Academy of Sciences: Anthropologist James O’Connell; geneticist Mario Capecchi; chemist Peter Stang; geologist-geochemist Thure Cerling; anthropologist Henry Harpending; anthropologist Kristen Hawkes; late anthropologist Jesse D. Jennings; chemist Cheves Walling; biochemist Sidney Velick; biologist John R. Roth; chemist Josef Michl; geneticist Ray White; late anthropologist Julian Steward; anthropologist Jeremy Sabloff; late chemist Henry Eyring; late pharmacologist Louis Goodman; biologist Baldomero “Toto” Olivera; and chemist Dale Poulter.
  • National Academy of Engineering: Jindrich Kopecek; the late R. Peter King; Adel Sarofim; Sung Wan Kim; Gerald Stringfellow; Donald Dahlstrom; the late George Hill; Jan D. Miller; Milton E. Wadsworth; the late Thomas G. Stockham; John Herbst; Stephen C. Jacobsen, the late Willem J. Kolff; Anil Virkar; and William A. Hustrulid.
  • Institute of Medicine: Jacobsen and Kim (both also are members of the National Academy of Engineering), Olivera (also a member of the National Academy of Sciences), obstetrician-gynecologist Eli Adashi and medical informatics professors Homer R. Warner and Paul D. Clayton.