Rebecca Richards-Kortum has focused on translating research that integrates advances in nanotechnology and molecular imaging with microfabrication technologies to develop optical imaging systems that are inexpensive, portable, and provide point-of-care diagnosis. This basic and translational research is highly collaborative and has led to new technologies to improve the early detection of cancers and other diseases, especially in impoverished settings.
Richards-Kortum has initiated several significant educational and research programs at Rice University. In 2007, she established Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health, and in 2005, with the support of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, she founded Rice 360º's undergraduate educational initiative, Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB). The BTB curriculum has been institutionalized at Rice as an undergraduate minor in global health technologies. In addition to serving as director of Rice 360°, Richards-Kortum is director of Rice's Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, a special adviser to the provost on health-related research and educational initiatives, and she serves on the Baylor College of Medicine/Rice oversight council.
Richards-Kortum's research lab develops low-cost miniature imaging systems and reusable platforms for point-of-care (POC) diagnostics. When used with contrast agents, these rugged and portable optical imaging systems detect molecular signatures of pre-cancer, assess tumor margins, and monitor a patient’s response to therapy. Current systems are being tested and applied through multidisciplinary collaborations with clinicians and researchers at Rice, the UT M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, UT Health Science Center-Houston, UT at Austin, the University of Arizona, and the British Columbia Cancer Agency. Over the past few years, Richards-Kortum and collaborators have translated these technologies from North America to both low- and medium-resource developing countries (Botswana, India, Taiwan, Mexico, and Brazil).