News ≫ Meet the 2024 Winners: Professor Richard S. Gunasekera, Ph.D., D.IDv.

Meet the 2024 Winners: Professor Richard S. Gunasekera, Ph.D., D.IDv.

Jan 12, 2024
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Meet Lifetime Achievement Award winner Professor Richard S. Gunasekera, Ph.D., D.IDv.

We are awarding Professor Richard S. Gunasekera, Ph.D., D.IDv., because of his pioneering work in biochemical genetics, nanotechnology, forensic science, and cancer biology. His many cutting-edge innovations and real-world applications are exceptional contributions to the world.

Born in Horton Place, Colombo, Sri Lanka, Professor Gunasekera grew up in Cinnamon Gardens and the picturesque coastal town of Kalutara. He received his primary education at St. Thomas’ College and secondary education at Royal College, where he played water polo, swam for the college, and later the national team. Upon receiving a scholarship, he left Sri Lanka after his first year at Ceylon Law College to pursue further education in Texas, USA.

His 20-year career as a professor and a scientist is full of remarkable accomplishments in biochemical genetics, nanomedicine, forensic science, and cancer biology, which is undoubtedly due to his extensive educational achievements. When he arrived in Texas, he earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at Baylor University and went on to a master’s degree in bio-organic chemistry from the University of Houston-Clear Lake, a master’s degree in molecular genetics, and a doctorate in biomedical sciences at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

He has held faculty and research positions at Rice University in Houston, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and the University of Houston-Victoria, where he founded the Department of Biological Sciences from the ground up, acting as the Department Head and later as the Director of Graduate Studies.

He has received awards for excellence in teaching, research, and as a distinguished faculty member from his previous institutions. In 2020, while leading his students and faculty in research to fight SARS-CoV-2 virus, a cutting-edge discovery was made showing that molecular nanomachines can destroy viruses. This work received a first-place award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was cited in the prestigious academic journal “Science.” This discovery highlights the importance of nanotechnology within the medical field. His work was focused on using nanomedicine to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria and viruses. He has also published molecular findings regarding the SARS-CoV-2 virus and potential prevention methodologies of COVID-19 that were cited by the CDC and WHO-related investigators early in the pandemic.

Professor Gunasekera recently designed a centralized search engine called ORFanID, which is unlike anything researchers have used. It makes identifying orphan genes, those genes that lack detectable similarity to genes in other species, accessible to scientists. He said, “ORFanID has the potential to be a game-changer (in Genetics and the Human Genome). By efficiently identifying and cataloging orphan genes, researchers can delve into the functional roles these genes play in specific organisms.”

If all of his advances in science and medicine aren’t enough, he spends his free time consulting on DNA for murder cases and serving on science and medical missions worldwide. He created and funded the first International Endowed Scholarship at UH-Victoria dedicated to Sri Lankans in memory of his parents: The Gunasekera International Endowed Scholarship.

Professor Gunasekera is currently the Research Professor of Science, Technology, and Health and the Professor of Biochemistry at Biola University. He aims to teach students the practical applications of what they learn in the classroom. He prefers to “teach what he practices,” and what he practices is a great benefit to the world.

The Sri Lanka Foundation thanks Professor Richard S. Gunasekera, Ph.D., D.IDv., for devoting his career to science. He runs scientific experiments and labs, teaching and mentoring teams of researchers to find cures for the diseases that plague mankind. After two decades of such effort, he truly deserves recognition for his achievements.

Join us for the Sri Lanka Foundation International Awards 2024. Hosted at the Sheraton Universal Hotel on Sunday, 21 April 2024 from 10am to 5pm.

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