When he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1984, Kyriacos Athens Athanasiou, Ph.D., was only beginning to dream of where his focus and field might take him. In the years since, he has become one of the world’s foremost thinkers, inventors, and leaders in the world of biomedical engineering. In October 2020, he was elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), one of the highest distinctions awarded to professionals in the medical sciences, healthcare, and public health.
According to NAM, Athanasiou was inducted “for inventing, developing, and translating technologies, such as articular cartilage implants and methods for intraosseous infusion, that impact several biomedical fields, including orthopedics, maxillofacial surgery, tissue engineering, diabetes, and emergency care.”
Athanasiou has a remarkable list of accomplishments. In addition to being a distinguished professor of biomedical engineering at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), he is the holder of the Henry Samueli Endowed Chair and the head of Driving Engineering & Life-science Translational Advances @ Irvine. He has served as the president of the Biomedical Engineering Society and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. In 2014, he was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors.
“I am honored to have been elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine,” said Athanasiou. “The recognition, which would not have been possible without the contributions of my students and colleagues at UCI and other institutions throughout my career, highlights the importance of developing a fundamental understanding of the key engineering principles that govern the human body, inventing new ways to treat acquired and congenital defects, and translating those innovations to help improve the human condition.”
The goal of improving the human condition, combined with expertise and imagination, has led Athanasiou to develop technologies to address many medical issues. He is perhaps best known for inventing implants that help cartilage heal and repair itself. He and his team pioneered a revolutionary intraosseous infusion device allowing drugs and other vital substances to be delivered directly through bones. The technology is not only implemented by emergency response and ambulance teams around the world, but it has also captured the attention of pop culturists, having been featured on television shows including ER and Grey’s Anatomy.
Passionate about sharing his discoveries and making his advancements accessible, he has published more than 360 peer-reviewed papers, which have been cited 34,000 times. And he has had 15 products approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Athanasiou’s main goal is to continue to use advancements in technology to help diminish pain and aid in quality of life. “We want to use tissue engineering to come up with solutions that eliminate pain and restore function,” he said.