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U.Va Patent Foundation Names Inventors Of The Year: Microbiologists William Petri And Barbara Mann

June 3, 2003 -- 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.

“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.

“Even though this test may not be highly profitable, “ MacWright said, “its value should be measured in its benefit to humanity, rather than in dollars and cents.”

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 dipstick test that can show in minutes whether the E. histolytica organism is present. Still, challenges facing the test remain, especially,expanding distribution through the developing world’s rudimentary health care systems and reducing the cost of the test to pennies apiece.

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?”

Guerrant, won the U.Va. Patent Foundation’s Inventor of the Year Award in 1997 with colleague Timothy Macdonald, professor and chairman of the Department of Chemistry, for their work in rehydration and nutrition therapy.

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 was studying a protein on the surface of E. histolytica, looking for a way to accurately identify the parasite and guide health care workers to the correct treatment. Mann cloned the protein so it could be used to develop high-affinity antibodies, creating an extremely sensitive, accurate test.

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. Also, they collaborated with Blacksburg-based microbiologists Tracy Wilkins and David Lyerly, co-founders of TechLab Inc., a small spin-off company from Wilkins’ research at Virginia Tech, which makes clinical diagnostic tests for diseases of the human colon.

Also, Barry Farr, U.Va. hospital epidemiologist, helped design the field research; Rashidul Haque, at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has conducted the field research for their project for the past 10 years; and Terri Beaty and Priya Duggal, human geneticists at Johns Hopkins University, have helped manage the statistics involved in genetics research.

Petri and Mann’s research and collaboration with TechLab in developing the diagnostic tests has been supported by the U.Va. School of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the federal Small Business Innovation and Research grant program, the Markey Charitable Trust, the Burroughs-Welcome Fund and theJeffress Trust.

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

TechLab holds an exclusive license to the patents protecting the intellectual property involved in the diagnostic kits.
Previous U.Va. Patent Foundation Inventor of the Year Award winners include:

2002 – Dr. Joel Linden, professor of cardiovascular medicine, molecular physiology and biological physics, for his work in developing a family of anti-inflammatory compounds

2001 -- Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, a materials scientist and University Professor of Applied Science, for her research and six patented inventions relating to electrical brushes used in electrical motors and generators

2000 -- Ronald P. Taylor, professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics and a member of the Beirne Carter Immunology Center, for inventions related to his research into treatments for diseases caused by pathogens in the bloodstream.

The Inventor of the Year Award was the brainchild of Dr. Richard Edlich, U.Va. professor emeritus and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants. Christopher J. Henderson, president and chief financial officer of Robbins & Henderson, a New York firm specializing in financial and related services for institutions, has been active in promoting partnerships between universities and industry.

The U.Va. Patent Foundation is a not-for-profit Virginia corporation affiliated with the University of Virginia that promotes the transfer of technology developed at the University to business and industry.

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (434) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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