Krishna Kumar

Krishna Kumar
© Kathleen Dooher

Chemist named one of world's top innovators

Krishna Kumar, associate professor of chemistry, has been named one of the world's "100 Top Young Innovators" by Technology Review, the MIT magazine that covers emerging technologies on the verge of commercialization.

Kumar was recognized for his work on "decorating" proteins with Teflon-like materials that make them potentially useful in a variety of biomedical applications, including drug delivery and the design of new antibiotics.

The 100 innovators were recognized September 24-25 at an MIT conference on emerging technologies for their contributions to transforming the nature of technology in fields such as biotechnology, computing, energy, medicine, manufacturing, nanotechnology, telecommunications and transportation.

Kumar's research team is designing stable proteins atom-by-atom to provide a blueprint for a particular structure and function. They use amino acids—the building blocks of proteins—with unnatural "side chains" to build proteins with properties not found in nature. For example, Kumar's group has incorporated fluorocarbons—the same material found in Teflon—into proteins to make them "non-stick." These materials have numerous potential medical uses, including the design of new antibiotics, high-temperature catalysts, drug-delivery portals on human cell membranes and structural templates for "nanotechnology"—building consumer goods such as computers on a molecular level by piecing together individual atoms.

"Innovation and technological change are essential to worldwide economic growth," said Robert Buderi, editor-in-chief of Technology Review. "Now, more than ever, it's important to recognize that there is no one technology driving the next wave of success, but rather several that, when fused together, will create another era of significant change for our society."

Kumar was also one of only seven faculty members in the country to receive a 2003 DuPont Young Professor Grant, which encourages highly original research and helps young academics launch their research careers.

He received a National Science Foundation Career Award in 2002 and is an associate member of the Cancer Center at Tufts-New England Medical Center. His research focuses on novel methods for the design and construction of artificial proteins, molecular enzymes and self-assembling biomaterials. His research group is also investigating how modern-day enzymes evolved from primordial peptides.