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Greek Scientist Elected to US National Academy of Medicine

Greek scientist
Greek scientist Elisa Konofagou was elected to the National Academy of Sciences this week. Her field of study is radiology and ultrasound. Credit: Facebook/Greek Embassy

Greek scientist Elisa Konofagou, a professor of biomedical engineering and a professor of radiology at Columbia University, was elected to the National Academy of Medicine on Wednesday.

One of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine, being elected to the Academy recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.

In announcing her election, the NAM cited Konofagou’s “leadership and innovation in ultrasound and other advanced imaging modalities and their application in the clinical management of significant health care problems such as cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer, through licensing to the major imaging companies.”

“I am delighted and humbled after receiving this wonderful news! Thank you to the NIH for your support,” said Konofagou in a statement. “I owe this tremendous honor to all the extremely talented students, postdoctoral fellows and staff that have come through my lab over the years.

“I also owe this recognition to my colleagues and collaborators, both at Columbia Engineering and Columbia University Irving Medical Center. It has been an absolute privilege and honor to work on important clinical problems that we as engineers could help solve, but also benefit from the clinical perspective on what a patient may need for a more accurate diagnosis, targeted treatment, or better quality of life. I am also indebted to the patients in our studies for their time to allow us to develop and test our technologies.”

Konofagou added “I feel especially fortunate to have grown as faculty in a Department and School that actively support creativity and innovation with the right infrastructure—whether that means laboratory space contiguous with clinical facilities or connecting engineers with biologists and clinicians—to not only unveil mechanisms, but also to translate clinically relevant approaches. Finally, I owe everything to my family, my husband, Simos, and our two kids, Philippos and Aris, for inspiring me and supporting me every day to push through.”

As Director of the Ultrasound and Elasticity Imaging Laboratory, Konofagou’s research focuses on the development of novel elasticity imaging techniques and therapeutic ultrasound methods and, more notably, focused ultrasound in the brain for drug delivery and stimulation, myocardial elastography, electromechanical and pulse wave imaging, harmonic motion imaging with several clinical collaborations in the NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and elsewhere.

Her work in therapeutic ultrasound is widely acknowledged as breaking new ground in medical practice and treatment. Her pioneering research and translation effort is a true testament to the impact of cross-disciplinary collaboration between engineering and medicine.

“We are thrilled that Professor Konofagou has received this much deserved recognition from the National Academy of Medicine,” said Shih-Fu Chang, interim dean of Columbia Engineering. “Her work in therapeutic ultrasound is widely acknowledged as breaking new ground in medical practice and treatment. Her pioneering research and translation effort is a true testament to the impact of cross-disciplinary collaboration between engineering and medicine. This is a great honor for Elisa, for Columbia Engineering, and for the University as a whole, and we congratulate her wholeheartedly.”

Greek scientist won Fulbright, graduated from University of Paris

For her doctoral work, Konofagou was instrumental in the development of elastography, a technique that images organs and tumors based on their distinct elasticity, for breast cancer diagnosis. The technique has been licensed by ultrasound imaging manufacturers worldwide to better aid in early detection of inconspicuous or suspicious lesions. Her group is currently developing elastography for the early detection of myocardial ischemia and infarction in the heart as well as electromechanical imaging of cardiac arrhythmias.

Her group is also building on her earlier work in cancer diagnosis by evaluating chemotherapeutic response or monitoring ultrasound ablative treatment. Konofagou has devised methodologies that detect the change in tumor elasticity prior to tumor volume changes with success in preclinical mouse models of breast and pancreatic cancer.

Konofagou’s work has also proven pivotal in the brain, which is an especially hard organ to deliver drugs to, partly because of the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that lines all the blood vessels in the brain and acts as a formidable filter of all circulating compounds including drugs. Her group has shown that temporarily lifting the barrier using ultrasound and microbubbles allows proteins, antibodies, chemotherapeutic drugs, and gene delivery vectors to penetrate all the way to the neurons to restore dopaminergic neurons in Parkinson’s patients and reduce tumor burden in glioma tumors in mouse animal models.

Biomedical Engineering Chair X. Edward Guo, Stanley Dicker Professor of Biomedical Engineering and professor of medical sciences, said, “On behalf of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, we are very pleased to learn this great news and we are extremely happy for Elisa as she receives this well deserved and huge honor.”

Konofagou is an elected fellow of the American Institute of Biological and Medical Engineering, a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in Engineering in Medicine and Biology (IEEE-EMBS), IEEE in Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control Society, the Acoustical Society of America, and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. Konofagou has co-authored more than 240 published articles in the aforementioned fields.

She is also a technical committee member of the Acoustical Society of America, the International Society of Therapeutic Ultrasound, the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology conference, the IEEE International Ultrasonics Symposium, and the American Association of Physicists in Medicine.

Konofagou received a BS in chemical physics from Université de Paris 6 in 1992, a MS in biomedical engineering from Imperial College (London) in 1993, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Houston in 1999.

She completed postdoctoral research in elasticity-based monitoring of focused ultrasound therapy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She received a Fulbright U.S. Inter-country Award in 2019.

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