Innovation and scholarship went hand in hand on November 5, when the University of Washington School of Medicine and CoMotion presented their 2015 Inventor of the Year Award. The award, now in its twelfth year, recognizes senior scientists whose innovations have both dramatically improved global health and benefited the local economy.
This year, the award went to Dr. David Eyre, the Ernest M. Burgess Endowed Chair for Orthopædic Investigation. Dr. Eyre came to the University of Washington in 1985, from the Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital. Among his many professional accolades, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in 1992, and he has twice received career awards from the National Institutes of Health, which has funded his work for forty years.
At the School of Medicine, Dr. Eyre is the Director of the Burgess Chair Research Program. In this capacity, he and his students have done foundational research to understand the mechanisms of skeletal diseases, especially arthritis and osteoporosis. More than that, during “thirty years of adventure with the tech transfer process,” as he describes it, Dr. Eyre and his group developed, among other things, Osteomark NTx, an osteoporosis diagnostic test described as the industry “gold standard” that measures the rate of bone loss.
Also handed out at the ceremony was a Lifetime Innovator Award, to Dr. Randall Moon, Professor of Pharmacology at the medical school. Dr. Moon studies stem cell biology and regeneration, and is the founding director of the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at UW. His work on cell signaling has led to the development of several new stem cell treatment therapies.
The evening included a panel discussion on the Innovation Imperative. Per Reinhall and Jonathan Posner, both from the UW Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Barry Lutz from the Department of Bioengineering spoke of the changing landscape the modern university researcher faces. No longer is the young faculty member who wants to do applied, translational work necessarily at odds with the academy’s broader intellectual mission. Reinhall, Posner, and Lutz, each of whom has turned some component of their research into a commercial venture, described the more practical elements of academic entrepreneurship: how to identify problems of need, team building, staying nimble when confronted with the unexpected, and so on.
Finally, eight student innovators showcased their work in a Pitch Slam. In lightning pitches that lasted one minute and, to the consternation of some, not a second longer, they presented their projects, and attendees voted on what they thought was the most promising. Third place went to Charlie Corredor and SoroS, for a novel point-of-care diagnostic test for sexually transmitted infections. Second place went to doctoral candidate Rajalakshmi Nandakumaf, who helped develop ApneaApp, a smartphone app that tracks a sleeper’s breathing patterns and can help them detect sleep apnea events. And first place, and the $1,000 prize, went to Aaron Chevalier and FluBinders, for work to design therapeutic binding proteins.