Life experiences, engineering shape nanotechnology pioneer’s innovative approach to health challenges
Pioneering scientist Paula Hammond, who is lecturing Thursday at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, is one of only 25 scholars elected to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.
Paula T. Hammond views health problems through the lens of a chemical engineer, a woman, a parent.
“My experience as just a person in the world has taught me to be extremely flexible about my thinking, and that's really helped me because I can actually look at a problem many different ways,” Hammond said. “That's allowed me to innovate much more effectively.”
She pioneered as a professor, and in 2015 was the first woman and first person of color appointed to head the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Chemical Engineering. She is also a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and has blazed paths in macromolecular design and synthesis, drug delivery to battle cancer, and nanoscale assembly of synthetic biomaterials.
Her work has led to such innovations as a spray coating that helps blood clot instantly, a potentially life-saving technology for ground troops injured in battle. She cofounded LayerBio Inc., which is developing a novel drug-delivery platform focused on underserved needs in ophthalmology and wound care.
“My lab has been really focused on how we can deliver cancer drugs directly to tumors in the body, but we've also been looking at how we can use materials to generate bone, especially to regenerate bone in regions where there may have been a surgery,” Hammond said in a video produced by the National Academy of Engineering.
The public is invited to her talk “Sticky Nanoparticles for Health and Healing” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 27, at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. A public reception with refreshments begins at 5 p.m.
“Dr. Hammond’s research complements and informs some of the work taking place right here at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “Her pioneering contributions and innovative approach to biomedicine is saving lives and providing for improved health right now, and she brings an engineer’s perspective to some of our most serious health challenges. We are privileged that she will be visiting Roanoke and greatly look forward to hearing from her.
Hammond was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2016, the National Academy of Engineering in 2017, and the National Academy of Sciences in 2019. She is one of only 25 scientists with the distinction of being elected to all three national academies.
She said her background informs her work.
“As a woman, I have a different perspective on the different kinds of health problems that might be really important to address,” she said.
She has a strong interest in ovarian cancer, for instance, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is the second most common gynecologic cancer and causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Hammond received the Department of Defense’s 2013 Teal Innovator Award for her ovarian cancer research.
In addition to being a board member and co-founder of LayerBio Inc., she is a member of the scientific advisory board of Moderna Therapeutics Inc., the scientific advisory board of Camden Partners LLC, the board of Alector Inc., and the board of Advanced Chemotherapy Technologies.
Hammond’s lecture wraps up this year’s series, which was made possible by Maury Strauss. The longtime Roanoke businessman and benefactor recognizes the importance of sharing with the community innovative ideas from the top minds in biomedical and health sciences research.
The public is welcome to attend the free public lecture, which will be preceded by a 5 p.m. reception with refreshments in the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at 2 Riverside Circle on Virginia Tech’s Roanoke campus.