June 13-26, 2003
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William Petri Petri, Mann named inventors of the year

By Charlotte Crystal

Microbiologists William Petri and Barbara Mann have been named joint recipients of the 2003 Edlich-Henderson Inventor of the Year Award by the University of Virginia Patent Foundation.

Petri, professor of medicine, microbiology and pathology, and Mann, associate professor of medicine and microbiology, were recognized for their collaborative work in developing a clinical test to diagnose amoebiasis, an intestinal infection that is a leading cause of death in children in developing countries.

Barbara Mann“The selection committee chose Bill Petri and Barb Mann as this year’s award winners for two main reasons,” said Robert S. MacWright, executive director of the U.Va. Patent Foundation. “First, their diagnostic test has proved to be important in detecting and treating a debilitating children’s disease. And second, their story is a perfect example of how faculty researchers can use the patenting and licensing processes to bring the fruits of their research to the public while still focusing on their research.” The researchers’ work will enable health care workers to treat children and adults suffering from diarrhea and dysentery by identifying the infecting agent. Until Petri and Mann developed a relatively easy-to-use, inexpensive (less than $10 each) kit, there was no easy way to specifically identify the Entamoeba histolytica organism.

After developing three versions of the test kit — each one more sensitive and simple to use than the one before — the researchers plan to develop a dip stick test that can tell in minutes whether the E. histolytica organism is present.

THE INVENTION

Until William Petri and Barbara Mann developed their diagnostic kit, there was no easy way to specifically diagnose amoebiasis, an intestinal infection that is a leading cause of death in children in developing countries.

More on their research

Petri was drawn to the world of intestinal disease in the1980s, when he heard tropical diseases described as the “great neglected diseases” of the 20th century, because they affected poor people living in the developing world, rather than affluent Americans. A lecture by Dr. Richard Guerrant, professor of medicine and head of the Division of Geographic and International Medicine, who lectured Petri’s Medical School class on tropical medicine, also captured his imagination. “Dick [Guerrant] is charismatic, he made an impression on me,” Petri said. “He talked about kids dying young. How could you not care about that?”

Petri and Mann, who have known each other since graduate school at U.Va., have worked together since 1989, when Petri brought Mann back to the University to collaborate on research into the intestinal parasite E. histolytica.

Petri and Mann are generous in sharing the credit for their work. In particular, they note the contributions of U.Va. colleagues William Sutherland, research professor of cell biology, who helped them develop the monoclonal antibodies used in their research; and Martin Chapman, professor of medicine, who showed them how to work with monoclonal antibodies. Other scientists and units at the U.Va., Virginia Tech and Johns Hopkins have contributed as well.

Since their collaboration began, the pair has secured four joint patents for their work. Mann holds a total of five patents; Petri a total of 10.


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