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Prominent KU researchers named Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors

Friday, December 18, 2015

LAWRENCE — Two prominent KU researchers — each with a track record of turning ideas into inventions and new companies – have been elected Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

Val Stella, a university distinguished professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Bala Subramaniam, the Dan F. Servey Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, are among 168 individuals selected this year as NAI Fellows. They are KU’s first NAI Fellows and will be inducted April 15 during the fifth annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C.  Honorees receive a medal and a special trophy. Andrew Hirshfield, U.S. commissioner for patents, will make keynote remarks at the induction ceremony.

Election as an NAI Fellow is a professional distinction that recognizes persons whose inventions “have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and welfare of society.” Fellows are nominated by their peers for “outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.”

The NAI was established in 2010 and now has 582 Fellows. They represent more than 190 prestigious research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutions.

Stella is the inventor or co-inventor of four drug products for the treatment of epilepsy, AIDS and cancer as well as an anesthetic. He also developed an agent, Captisol, a modified cyclodextrin, that is used to dissolve drugs for injection more efficiently and is used in seven FDA-approved products. He was director of KU’s Center for Drug Delivery Research, then part of the Higuchi Biosciences Center. During that time he spun off three successful companies: CyDex, CritiTech and ProQuest.

Stella received a degree in pharmacy from the Victorian College of Pharmacy, now Monash University, in Melbourne, Australia. He completed a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry at KU in 1971, then returned two years later to work alongside his doctoral adviser, noted academic inventor Takeru Higuchi. His honors include the American Pharmacists Association’s Takeru Higuchi Research Prize, the Distinguished Scientist award from the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists and election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Stella has written more than 300 publications, reviews and book chapters.  He holds 42 issued U.S. patents and many foreign patents.

Subramaniam is co-founder and current director of the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, a unique university/industry consortium. He came to KU in 1985. His research utilizes unconventional solvents, such as gas-expanded liquids and supercritical fluids, to intensify catalytic and crystallization processes. Subramaniam’s inventions harness the properties of these solvents to manufacture drug nanoparticles with improved bioavailability. Another outcome is resource-efficient catalytic technologies with reduced environmental footprint for making plastic precursors from plant-based biomass. These inventions have led to technology licenses and the creation of CritiTech, a pharmaceutical startup company. 

Subramaniam’s honors include the Dow Outstanding Young Faculty Award from the American Society for Engineering Education and the Chemcon Lectureship Award from the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Chemical Society’s Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Division. He holds 27 U.S. patents, has written more than 160 publications, is the editor of two books and serves as associate editor of ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering journal. Subramaniam received a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Madras, India. He completed a master's degree and doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Notre Dame.

Stella and Subramaniam, both of whom are recipients of the prestigious Higuchi-KU Endowment Research Achievement Award, were nominated for election as NAI Fellows by Julie Nagel, interim associate vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship.

“These two distinguished professors are a model for translating KU research into products that benefit others and have an economic impact,” Nagel said. “Election as NAI Fellows is a well-deserved honor for both of them and reflects well on KU.  Their long-time success as researchers and innovators is an inspiration to all of us.”

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