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Cyprus’ top honor goes to UCD biomedical engineer

Kyriacos Athanasiou, a professor of engineering at UC Davis, talks with a student last year in his lab, the Musculoskeletal Bioengineering Laboratory, in the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Building at UCD. Karin Higgins, UC Davis/Courtesy photo

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From page A5 | November 29, 2012 |

UC Davis Distinguished Professor Kyriacos Athanasiou on Tuesday received the Nemitsas Prize — the highest honor that a Cypriot scientist can receive — at the presidential palace in Nicosia.

“It is always wonderful for someone to receive recognition for his or her work in the form of awards, honors or prizes,” said Athanasiou, who holds the Child Family Endowed Chair in engineering. “The Nemitsas Prize is particularly important to me because it is the highest award from the land where I was born and reared.

“It is even more important to me because my entire family, including my mom, were in the audience when the president of Cyprus presented me with this great honor. It was with great humility and respect that I dedicated the Nemitsas Prize to my beloved mother and late father.”

Founded in 2009, the Takis and Louki Nemitsas Foundation presents the annual award to a Cypriot who lives in Cyprus or abroad and whose discoveries, inventions or artistic accomplishments offer outstanding benefits not only to Cyprus but the world.

Eligible categories include engineering, environmental sciences, seismology, health and medicine, and the arts. The Nemitsas Prize includes a solid gold medal and a cash award of 50,000 euros.

Athanasiou received the award in recognition of his numerous achievements in the field of biomedical engineering and tissue engineering. For example, a device he co-invented, the EZ-IO kit, was widely used in the cholera epidemic that swept Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. The kit is a drill used to insert intravenous lines directly into the bones of people whose veins are inaccessible due to severe dehydration or shock.

Athanasiou also invented and marketed a device that prevents diabetic ulcer-related amputations. In addition, he founded a company, Osteobiologics, to market an implant developed by his group for the treatment of cartilage damage, the first device of its kind to reach the market.

Athanasiou was born in Larnaka, Cyprus. Following mandatory military service, he came to the United States to study, attending Brescia College in Owensboro, Ky., and receiving his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from New York Institute of Technology at Old Westbury and his Ph.D. from Columbia University.

He later served on the faculty of the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, the University of Texas at Austin and Rice University. Since 2009, he has been distinguished professor and chair of the biomedical engineering department at UCD, where he holds a joint appointment as a distinguished professor of orthopaedic surgery.

Athanasiou is currently working on clinically acceptable solutions to treat cartilage injury and diseases. His laboratory strives to ensure that engineered and processed tissues have biomechanical function akin to native tissue. His group has successfully fabricated sections of articular cartilage by the self-assembly of cells, without the use of any scaffolds.

Recently, his group has shown that the biomimetic cartilage it produces is biocompatible, stable and continues to mature once it has been implanted.

Athanasiou holds 28 patents and has published more than 250 papers.

— UC Davis News Service

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