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NIH Record

Dedrick Named NIH's Engineer of the Year for 2000

By Dr. Peter Bungay

How relevant is exposing rodents to high doses of toxic chemicals to the prediction of risk to humans from low-dose exposure? For ovarian cancer localized to the abdomen, is it advantageous to perform chemotherapy by filling the abdominal cavity with a solution of the drug? For growing cells in the laboratory, is it better to provide their nutrients through fine permeable tubes that mimic the blood vessels to which they are accustomed? Can features of flow in arteries that influence where atherosclerotic plaques develop be determined by pumping simulated blood through polymer casts of arteries? Will direct infusion into tissue be effective for delivery of new kinds of therapeutic agents such as monoclonal antibodies, antisense oligonucleotides and gene therapy vectors? How controllable is chemical surgery for Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and brain tumors using infusions of toxins? Will inhalation of chemopreventive agents be efficacious in persons at risk for lung cancer?

Questions such as these have intrigued and preoccupied Dr. Robert Dedrick during the past 34 years. His success in addressing them has resulted in his selection as the NIH Engineer of the Year for 2000.

Dr. Robert Dedrick

To Dedrick, these problems have provided opportunities for demonstrating the power that engineering tools and quantitative perspectives can bring to collaborations with physicians and biological researchers. His insight, grounded in his training in chemical engineering, has led to numerous seminal contributions by him and by the Drug Delivery and Kinetics Resource he directs in the ORS Division of Bioengineering and Physical Science. Commercial capillary tissue culture systems that he co-patented are in widespread use. His prediction of a large pharmacological advantage for giving drug directly into the abdominal cavity has been validated in numerous clinical trials. A large trial for treating ovarian cancer found a significant survival advantage with lower side effects for this approach over intravenous administration. Studies of simulated blood flow in physical models of arterial networks have illuminated problems of maldistribution of drugs administered intra-arterially and have then suggested efficacious solutions. The infusion of agents directly into the brain has had promising results for treating tumors with a protein-based toxin, and is being investigated for other applications such as gene therapy.

Probably the best known of Dedrick's engineering successes was the introduction of an approach to mathematically describing the time-dependence of drug distribution in various parts of the body. Termed physiological pharmacokinetics, this approach has been widely adopted in pharmacology and toxicology. Among other benefits, it permits "engineering scale-up" in guiding the dosing of drugs to patients based on studies in rodents and other laboratory animals. In addition it has provided a rational basis for extrapolation from high-dose to low-dose exposure to environmental contaminants in cancer risk estimation. Five patents and more than 100 peer-reviewed publications attest to how well Dedrick has been meeting his objective of applying chemical engineering principles to important medical and biological problems. His publications have included more than 100 NIH coauthors and have been cited well over 6,000 times.

Together with Engineer of the Year designees from other participating federal agencies, Dedrick was honored at a Federal Engineer of the Year ceremony on Feb. 24 during National Engineers Week. The annual awards are sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers.

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