University of Colorado Boulder Distinguished Professors Leslie Leinwand and Chris Bowman have been named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).
Leinwand is chief scientific officer of the BioFrontiers Institute and professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and Chris Bowman is the James and Catherine Patten endowed chair of the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department.
A nonprofit organization founded in 2010, the National Academy of Inventors aims to acknowledge academic innovators who hold U.S. patents that benefit society.
Election to NAI fellow status is “the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and welfare of society,” the NAI states.
Bowman and Leinwand’s research and innovations do just that.“Since I started my career as an academic scientist, I’ve always wanted to treat or cure genetic diseases; that’s been my passion right from the start,” says Leinwand, whose lab researches genetic heart and skeletal muscle diseases.
She made progress toward this goal with her first patent, which outlined a new way for scientists to secure a fundamental protein found in muscles. With this ability, they could then make progress toward understanding how mutations in the protein, and others it interacts with, might lead to disease.
“My first patent was quite special to me,” she says. “We were trying to develop some assays that are now translating to therapies.”
Since then, she has been awarded three other patents and co-founded two biotech companies based on technologies developed in her lab, including a mouse model of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart disease that is a common cause of sudden death in athletes.
Leinwand presented these mice to the scientific community as a test bed for drugs that might treat the disease. One of the companies she co-founded, MyoKardia, now develops small molecules and uses these mice to test the effectiveness of compounds that are now in clinical trials to treat the disease.
“It’s flattering to be named a fellow,” says Leinwand. “It’s nice for CU, and I’m happy about it.”
Bowman, who’s been awarded close to a dozen patents, is likewise flattered to be named to this year’s NAI fellows class.“It’s a very big honor,” he says. “To be recognized in that way, particularly by your peers, is incredibly nice.”
Bowman’s research combines engineering and material science with organic chemistry “to address problems that couldn’t be addressed otherwise.”
“We try to design new materials that enable properties or capabilities that the material wouldn’t have otherwise,” says Bowman.
Many of these new materials are dental restoratives, like cavity fillings and teeth sealants. His lab also works on so-called “smart” materials that respond when exposed to light or when heated up as well as on developing materials that solidify faster or are stronger than existing materials. These innovations could prove useful for micro- and nanotechnology applications in wound healing.
Although, he says he’s not sure he deserves the recognition, he’s grateful for the work the NAI does.
“Having the NAI advocating on behalf of creativity and invention and helping our government to understand the various issues [of licensing technology] will be valuable,” says Bowman.
Others are happy to laud his work for him.
"Chris has had enormous impact in polymer science research, as a department chair, for his outstanding teaching and mentorship, for starting and leading the Materials Science and Engineering Program, in starting new companies and in inventing and developing new technologies," department chair Charles Musgrave said in a press release.
"His election to the NAI specifically recognizes Chris as a world leader among academic inventors."
Bowman and Leinwand join 175 leaders of academic invention named 2016 fellows in December and will be inducted as part of the Sixth Annual Conference of the NAI at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Mass. on April 6.
Assembled each year, a selection committee evaluates fellows for election. This year’s committee included 19 members, encompassing NAI fellows, recipients of U.S. national medals, National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, members of the National Academies and senior officials from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, among others.
The National Academy of Inventors Fellows program includes 757 fellows worldwide. Together, the fellows hold “more than 26,000 issued U.S. patents and have generated more than 8,500 licensed technologies and companies, and created more than 1.1 million jobs with more than $100 billion in revenue generated based on their discoveries,” according to the 2016 NAI Activities Report.
Leinwand and Bowman join chemical and biological engineering Professor Kristi Anseth, elected in 2015, and former electrical and computer engineering Professor Kristina Johnson as NAI fellows.