President Suresh elected to Institute of Medicine

President Suresh was recently elected to the Institute of Medicine.  (credit: Michelle  Wan /) President Suresh was recently elected to the Institute of Medicine. (credit: Michelle Wan /)

The Institute of Medicine honored President Subra Suresh by electing him as a member of the institute in recognition of his research in cell mechanics on Oct. 21.

This honor from the Institute of Medicine, in addition to Suresh’s previous honors from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, make Suresh one of 16 Americans to be elected to all three national academies.

“Being in all three academies is a very small group of people, and I am particularly pleased that it happened while I am at CMU, because CMU is very well known for interdisciplinary research and that is what I practiced over the last many years,” Suresh said.

Suresh is the only current university president and first Carnegie Mellon faculty member to have earned this recognition. Including Suresh, there are 41 Carnegie Mellon faculty members who are members of the National Academy of Engineering, 11 in the National Academy of Sciences, and four in the Institute of Medicine.

“It was a pleasant surprise. I feel very honored, especially being an engineer, to be included in the medical community [because] biomedical work is very satisfying,” Suresh continued.

The Institute of Medicine is an independent organization that seeks to “provide expert advice on some of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and the world, helping to shape policies, inform public opinion, and advance the pursuit of science, engineering and medicine,” as stated on the organization’s website.
Speaking of the Institute and the National Academies, Suresh said, “They have a unique platform because it’s an independent organization with people from academia, industry, policy, et cetera. They are often asked by government to provide advice, and when they provide advice, they get attention, because it’s an honorific society.”

“For example, the Institute of Medicine came out with a report on a number of diseases, including topics such as obesity in the country, what policies should be there, things like Alzheimer’s, brain diseases,” Suresh said.

“As a member, you are likely to be invited more to participate in some of these studies. You can play a role in service to the country ... as a member of these academies.”

Suresh was recognized by the Institute of Medicine for his research in cell mechanics related to blood diseases, malaria, and certain types of cancer. His research explores the ability of cells to deform and how changes in this ability can lead to disease.

“The idea behind this is if you look at biological cells, especially human cells like red blood cells, there are physical properties and mechanical properties that are very important for health,” he said. “If something happens, either through environment or genetic defect that causes the cell to compromise its abilities, then it will affect the way the normal functioning of the body will take place.”

Suresh explained how this can cause different problems in different diseases.

In sickle cell anemia and malaria, the cell’s deformability is compromised; and that compromises the function of the cell.

Meanwhile, in certain types of cancer like pancreatic cancer, the easier it is for the cell to deform, the faster the cancer can metastasize and spread.

“For different diseases, it’s a different outcome, that’s the connection. And that’s the connection that’s not being studied at the cell level, because the tools you need to study them are very sophisticated using nanotechnology, computational modeling, and those tools that have been in place only in the last 10–15 years,” Suresh said.
Raymond J. Lane, Chairman of the Carnegie Mellon Board of Trustees, called Suresh’s research, “work at the intersection of engineering, the sciences, and medicine,” in an email to the Carnegie Mellon community.

“[President Suresh] is truly a scientist and educational leader for our time. He embodies, through his individual scholarship as well as institutional, national, and global leadership, Carnegie Mellon’s commitment to cross boundaries to transform lives,” Lane said.

Suresh will elaborate more on his research at his seminar “Crossing Boundaries, Transforming Lives: The Study of Human Diseases at the Crossroads of Engineering, Science, and Medicine” on Nov. 7 at 4:30 p.m. in McConomy Auditorium.