Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Ph.D.

Date(s) - 02/17/2020
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Communicore, C1-11

Malcolm Gillis University Professor, Department of Bioengineering, Director, Rice 360 Institute for Global Health, Rice University Engineering Technologies to Improve Health in Low-Resource Settings

Most of the world receives health care in low-resource settings, yet medical technologies are designed to be used mainly in high-resource settings, where designers take for granted basic infrastructure that supports their safe use and effective distribution. The corridors of many hospitals in low-resource settings are lined with donated medical equipment, but up to three-quarters of these devices do not work, often due to lack of spare parts or consumables. As a result, most of the world’s population lacks access to life-saving technologies developed decades ago, including infant incubators, oxygen concentrators, and simple laboratory diagnostics.  In the US, high costs of technology are a significant barrier to equitable access to quality care.

This talk will highlight the critical role that global bioengineering research and education partnerships play in developing and translating medical technologies to improve health in both domestic and international medically under-served communities.  Bioengineering undergraduate and graduate students in high- and low-resource settings must be educated to become successful practitioners of frugal design from a systems perspective.  A number of institutions are addressing this challenge through international bioengineering faculty and student exchanges, with a strong focus on project-based education.  Curricular reforms are especially needed in low-resource settings where a lack of engineering capacity and infrastructure severely limits economic development.

Over $130M has been invested to strengthen medical school education through NIH’s Medical Education Partnership Initiative, with a focus on developing human capacity, retaining faculty and graduates, and developing regionally relevant research programs; similar investments are critical if tertiary engineering education is to develop sufficient and relevant engineering capacity in the region.


Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Ph.D. is the Rice University Malcolm Gillis University Professor of Bioengineering, the Director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health, and serves as the special advisor to the Provost on health-related research and educational initiatives. Her research has been instrumental in improving early detection of cancers and other diseases, especially in low-resources settings. She is currently working with colleagues and undergraduate students to develop a Nursery of the Future to provide technologies necessary to reduce neonatal death in sub-Saharan Africa to rates equivalent to the United States.

Richards-Kortum’s research has led to the development of 40 patents. She is author of the textbook Biomedical Engineering for Global Health (Cambridge University Press, 2010), more than 230 refereed research papers and 11 book chapters. Her teaching programs, research and collaborations have been supported by generous grants from the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health (with more NIH grants than any other Rice professor), National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Defense, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Whitaker Foundation, and the Virginia and L.E. Simmons Family Foundation.

She is a member of numerous academic associations including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. As a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, she has the rare distinction of dual membership in the National Academies. In 2016, The American Institute for Medical and Biomedical Engineering (AIMBE) presented its highest honor, the Pierre Galletti Award to Dr. Richards-Kortum.

In 2008, she was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and subsequently received a grant for the undergraduate global health program at Rice. This program won the Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction from Science magazine and the Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation.