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Six Tufts Faculty Named National Academy of Inventors Senior Members

Researchers from schools across the university have been recognized as academic inventors making a positive impact on society

Six Tufts faculty members have been named to the 2024 class of senior members of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). With this recognition, the six are among a total of 124 highly accomplished emerging academic inventors, as identified by NAI’s 60 member institutions.

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. At the same time, they have increasing success in patents, licensing, and commercialization—while also educating and mentoring the next generation of inventors.

This year’s senior members from Tufts are:

  • Joshua Kritzer, professor of chemistry, School of Arts and Sciences
  • Cheryl London, Anne Engen and Dusty Professor in Comparative Oncology, and associate dean for research and graduate education, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
  • Charlie Mace, associate professor of chemistry, School of Arts and Sciences
  • Mohan Thanikachalam, research assistant professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, School of Medicine
  • Qiaobing Xu, professor of biomedical engineering and chemical and biological engineering, School of Engineering
  • Pamela Yelick, professor of orthodontics and director of the Division of Craniofacial and Molecular Genetics, School of Dental Medicine

“We at Tufts have long known that the university’s research ecosystem is strengthened by the contributions of these six faculty members,” said Bernard Arulanandam, Tufts’ vice provost for research. “The university is proud to have their innovation and accomplishments now also recognized by the NAI.”

Joshua Kritzer’s lab explores new frontiers in drug discovery.  They use innovative molecules to block disease-associated proteins, often in ways that traditional “drug-like” molecules cannot. This approach allows drug developers to target nearly any cellular process, leading to more effective treatments. Kritzer is additionally exploring molecules that control autophagy, a cellular recycling pathway which is dysregulated in a wide variety of diseases from lysosomal storage disorders to neurodegenerative diseases to advanced malignancies. They have additional projects that harness autophagy to obliterate disease-causing proteins and rejuvenate aging cells, and they are inventing new methods for measuring cell penetration, which is the most difficult roadblock for many emerging therapeutics.

Cheryl London is the director of the Clinical Research Shared Resource, which oversees studies in client-owned animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, and oversees the Research Collaboration Team at the Tufts Clinical Translational Science Institute, working to catalyze broadly engaged team science. London also serves as research professor at the School of Medicine and as a member of the Immunology graduate program at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

London has ongoing collaborations with the Broad Institute, UMass Chan Medical School, Tufts Medical Center, MIT, and Tufts University School of Medicine, as well as several projects with industry partners. These include immuno-oncology studies in the setting of osteosarcoma, and diffuse large B cell lymphoma and soft tissue sarcoma that involve spontaneous cancer in dogs to study novel strategies aimed at altering the tumor microenvironment and utilizing unique small molecule and immunotherapy combinations.

To solve outstanding problems in global health, Charlie Mace applies a multidisciplinary approach combining aspects of analytical chemistry, materials science, and engineering. The primary goal of the Mace lab is to develop low-cost, patient-centric technologies that can improve access to healthcare. To achieve this, Mace and his team are designing devices that improve the self-collection of blood and enable the diagnosis of diseases in resource-limited settings, and they are exploring ways the methods that are developed in the lab can used by others. Mace has a diverse intellectual property portfolio that includes 18 issued patents and a number of additional pending applications, provisional filings, and invention disclosures. 

Unique to laboratories in chemistry departments, his group specializes in handling human blood and saliva. Technologies developed in the Mace lab have made the leap to clinical sites in South Africa, Ghana, Peru, and elsewhere, owing to their network of clinical, academic, and industry collaborators. The Mace lab has broad expertise in assay development and device prototyping, which they apply to evaluating the efficacy of candidate therapeutics, performing separations that lead to new measurements, and making field-deployable kits for point-of-care testing. 

Mohan Thanikachalam is currently the lead investigator at Tufts University for the PURSE-HIS Study, a population-based cross-sectional study in 8,042 South Asians. The study aims to assess the prevalence and cause of overt and sub-clinical endovascular disease in urban, semi-urban, and rural communities in India. Thanikachalam previously established a new healthcare delivery model for comprehensive, cost-effective diabetes and cardiac care in India, and a biomedical engineering research facility to develop a range of implantable cardiac devices, including a patented implantable intraventricular assist device currently being commercialized.

Thanikachalam also led a joint effort between Tufts and MIT to develop the ViTrack®, a first-of-its-kind, cuff-less, wearable technology for real-world continuous, non-invasive blood pressure and other advanced hemodynamic parameters. The technology was awarded the Breakthrough Innovation in Cardiovascular Digital Health HRX 2023 by the Heart Rhythm Society and the American College of Cardiology Innovation Award in 2023. The technology is expected to be available in the market by 2025. He also led the development of a mobile phone-enabled peripheral neuropathy analyzer for persons with diabetes, and led efforts to develop a patch ultrasound sensor as a point-of-care device for home monitoring of extra-vascular lung water for remote management of congestive heart failure. Thanikachalam's research has been supported by various institutes of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. 

The research interests of Qiaobing Xu lie at the intersection of material science engineering (specifically nanoscience) and biomedical applications, with a focus on developing new materials for delivering therapeutic biomacromolecules. Xu’s recent research spans topics like novel nanomachines, lipid nanoparticle design, and cancer vaccines, and he is currently investigating the use of drug delivery for cancer therapy and gene editing.

In December 2023, Xu and colleagues published two papers on CRISPR technology and mRNA vaccines in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Findings from the papers have implications for the improvement of gene-editing tools and gene therapy drugs, genome evolution, and building artificially designed genomes, as well as a possible solution to address COVID-19 vaccines’ current inability to adapt to the constantly evolving variants of the virus.

Pamela C. Yelick is an internationally recognized leader in dental tissue engineering and craniofacial development, disease and regeneration, with a focus on dental tissue and whole tooth tissue engineering. She also holds appointments in the genetics, molecular and cellular biology, and pharmacology programs at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and in the Biomedical Engineering department at the School of Engineering.

Research in Yelick’s laboratory focuses on mineralized craniomaxillofacial and skeletal tissue development, homeostasis, disease, and regeneration. Research models include the zebrafish Danio rerio, rodent, rabbit, and mini pig in vivo models, human healthy and diseased tissues, and 3-D in vitro and in vivo tissue engineering models for human craniomaxillofacial bone, and dental tissue engineering. Yelick is the co-founder and chief scientific officer of RegendoDent, Inc., and was elected as the vice president and president-elect of the International Association for Dental Research in 2023 and as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2023.

The newly named senior members will be celebrated at NAI’s annual conference, to be held June 16–18, 2024, in Raleigh, North Carolina.