The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has selected three University of Pittsburgh professors among 83 academic inventors for the 2022 class of NAI Senior Members. They are:
- Antonio D’Amore, Research Assistant Professor, Surgery and Bioengineering and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
- Cecelia Yates, Associate Professor, Health Promotion & Development, School of Nursing
- Maliha Zahid, Assistant Professor, Developmental Biology
NAI Senior Members are active faculty, scientists and administrators from NAI member institutions who have demonstrated remarkable innovation producing technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society. They also have growing success in patents, licensing and commercialization.
“I am thrilled that these Pitt innovators are being recognized for their extraordinary commitment to making an impact on the world through the commercialization of their discoveries,” said Evan Facher, Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Pittsburgh and Director of the Innovation Institute. “The common thread for this year’s cohort of Pitt NAI Senior Member inductees is that not only are they passionate about bringing their own ideas to life, but they are also equally dedicated to cultivating the next generation of innovators through their mentorship activities.”
Dr. D’Amore is a pioneer in developing tissue-engineered heart valves, vascular grafts and cardiac patches. He has been sought out by several companies around the world to consult on R&D and clinical study design for regenerative medicine biomaterials and devices. He is aiming for his biggest impact through the company he founded, Neoolife, which licensed his intellectual property from the University of Pittsburgh in 2020.
In addition to his research and entrepreneurial responsibilities, he has helped to grow Fondazione RiMED, a partnership between the Italian government, the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC, aimed at growing the biotechnology sector in southern Italy. He recently became director of RiMED’s tissue engineering group, which he aims to grow to up to 80 scientists over the next two years, building on his previous work assisting the Italian Ministry for Economic Development in exploring how to improve innovation and technology transfer for 250 research centers and small companies in Italy.
Dr. D’Amore has put in countless hours as a personal mentor to more than 50 students, undergraduate to postdoc, over the past 10 years, and serving on the PhD review committees for many more.
In her first decade at Pitt, Dr. Yates has already participated in the creation of three startup companies aimed at stopping and even reversing the progression of fibrosis. These companies, Ocugenix, Curastem and FibroKine™ are methodically advancing toward clinical trials.
Dr. Yates created the first cellular and molecular laboratory for basic, translational, and clinical research within the University’s School of Nursing, helping to open up research opportunities for students within that school. She has submitted 12 invention disclosures and has received 6 patents.
She has mentored over 50 students and young faculty, including through the through the School of Nursing Research Mentorship Program (URMP) and the Medicine Bridge to Biotechnology & Bio-entrepreneurship Pipeline Program. She is also the Co-Director of the University’s Clinical and Translational Science Fellowship Program and mentors several of the pre-doctoral fellows, to equip researchers with the translational research skills.
During the third year of her cardiology residency at UPMC, Dr. Zahid procured a fellowship in cardiovascular diseases. After her first exposure to bench research she was hooked, inspiring her to enroll in a PhD program in Human Genetics to expand on her research interests.
Her PhD work centered on identifying cell-penetrating peptides targeting the heart. In her most recent research, she has studied the genes involved in the ciliation process in the respiratory system, leading to an additional issued patent and several new patent applications.
In 2019, she launched a startup, Vivasc Therapeutics Inc., and serves as chief scientific officer. The company is initially focused on the treatment of atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.
Dr. Zahid has become a vital part of the university’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem and an enthusiastic innovation mentor. She has served on the judging panel for the Pitt Innovation Challenge in 2019 and 2021.
She also mentored a local high-school student in her lab in 2018, as part of promoting STEM careers for girls, and two minority female freshman students, providing their first experience in bench research in the summer of 2020. She most recently sponsored the Gertrude Baptist scholarship at her high school in Lahore, Pakistan, to honor her high school science teacher.
This latest class of NAI Senior Members hails from 41 research universities. They are named inventors on over 1093 issued U.S. patents.
“Today, these Senior Members, on their path of prolific discovery, join the NAI innovation community,” said Paul R. Sanberg FNAI, President of the NAI, “With the NAI Senior Member award distinction, we recognize and honor these innovators who are rising stars in their fields.”