Noted innovators Samuel Achilefu, PhD, David Holtzman, MD, and Eric Leuthardt, MD – faculty members at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis – have been named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). The 2017 class of NAI fellows was announced Tuesday.
They are recognized as fellows for demonstrating innovation in creating and facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.
The newest class of fellows – 155 scientists from universities and governmental and nonprofit institutions – will be honored April 5 at a ceremony in Boston.
Other NAI fellows at Washington University include Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton; Holden Thorp, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs; and Jennifer K. Lodge, PhD, vice chancellor for research.
Achilefu, the Michel M. Ter-Pogossian Professor of Radiology, is being recognized for his innovative approach to integrating engineering, biology and medicine. He is known for pioneering the development of strategies for molecular imaging and treatment of human diseases using novel molecular probes and light-sensitive drugs. Also a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and of biomedical engineering, he discovered a new molecular entity that can be used to deliver drugs to many types of tumors.
Achilefu also led a team that developed a wearable, goggle-based imaging system for guiding surgical removal of cancer in real time. Cancer cells are notoriously difficult to see, even under high-powered magnification. Achilefu’s eyewear is designed to make it easier for surgeons to distinguish malignant cells from healthy cells, helping to ensure that no stray tumor cells are left behind during surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. The glasses could reduce the need for additional surgical procedures and the subsequent stress on patients, as well as time and expense.
After receiving a PhD in chemistry at the University of Nancy, France, and postdoctoral training in blood oxygen transport mechanisms, Achilefu came to St. Louis in 1993 to join the nascent Discovery Research Department at Mallinckrodt Medical Inc. In 2001, he joined Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University, where he now heads the Optical Radiology Laboratory. A Siteman Cancer Center researcher, he is also director of the university’s Molecular Imaging Center and a co-director of the Center for Multiple Myeloma Nanotherapy.
He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious St. Louis Award, given to St. Louis-area residents whose achievements reflect positively on the community. He also has been issued more than 50 U.S. patents.
Holtzman, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology, is being honored for distinguished contributions to understanding the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease and for developing diagnostics and treatments for the disease.
His research has focused on how levels of the Alzheimer’s proteins amyloid beta and tau in the brain and spinal fluid are linked to risk for and progression of the disease. He helped develop a technique known as stable isotope-linked kinetics (SILK) for monitoring production and clearance of amyloid beta in the brain and spinal fluid. The technique involves giving people a slightly altered form of one of the amino acids the body uses to make proteins. Through monitoring the presence of proteins with the altered amino acid, scientists can track how quickly the proteins are produced and cleared from the brain. The technique also can be adapted to study other diseases and biological processes.
His laboratory also developed antibodies against amyloid beta and tau that are currently in clinical trials in people with very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Holtzman co-founded a company called C2N Diagnostics in 2007 with Randall Bateman, MD, the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor of Neurology, to develop biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases.
Holtzman earned his bachelor’s and medical degrees from Northwestern University. He completed an internship, residency and postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco, where he was an assistant professor of neurology from 1991-94 before joining the Washington University faculty.
Past honors include the MetLife Foundation award for research on Alzheimer’s disease, the Potamkin Prize for Alzheimer’s research from the American Academy of Neurology, the 2014 Chancellor’s Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Washington University, and election to the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. He also is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Leuthardt, a professor of neurosurgery, of neuroscience, of biomedical engineering, and of mechanical engineering and applied science, is an expert in brain mapping and in devices that link the brain with computers. He studies how the brain encodes information so researchers can develop electronic devices controlled by the mind. Such brain-computer interfaces could allow patients to use their thoughts to communicate, move artificial or paralyzed limbs, or perform other neurological functions.
As director of Washington University’s Center for Innovation in Neuroscience and Technology, he gathers neurosurgeons, engineers, mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists to collaborate and develop new technologies to improve neurosurgery. He has helped develop techniques to identify the location of brain functions such as language and motor function to minimize the chance that surgery will impair crucial abilities.
With more than 500 issued patents and six startup companies for medical devices and brain-computer interface technologies, Leuthardt is a prolific inventor. He was named a Top Young Innovator by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s magazine Technology Review in 2004, and won the Academy Award of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery that same year. He also received the Innovation Award from the Academy of Science in St. Louis and was honored with the Chancellor’s Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Washington University.
A native of Cincinnati, Leuthardt earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and theology at Saint Louis University and his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine before returning to St. Louis to do his residency in neurological surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the School of Medicine. He joined the School of Medicine faculty in 2006.