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Bioengineering's Tracy Cui Inducted to National Academy of Inventors

University of Pittsburgh Professor of Bioengineering Tracy Cui has been named a Senior Member of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

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, while educating and mentoring the next generation of inventors. Also among this year's inductees is Pitt Associate Professor of Rehabilitation Science and Technology Jonathan Pearlman.

“Pitt innovators are constantly pushing the boundaries of science to not only create new knowledge, but to translate discoveries into innovations that can improve people’s lives. Drs. Cui and Pearlman are emblematic of that relentless quest for impact at Pitt, and we congratulate them on this well-deserved recognition,” said Evan Facher, Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Associate Dean for Commercial Translation at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

In Cui’s lab, the primary research focus is on the interactions between neural tissue and smart biomaterials. Cui’s research interests lie in neural engineering with special focuses on neural electrode-tissue interface, neural tissue engineering, central nervous system drug delivery, and biosensors. She is part of a multi-disciplinary Pitt team that is conducting groundbreaking research to help give people with paralysis the ability to control robotic arms solely with their brain. In 2019 she received a $2.9 million NIH grant to reduce inflammation around electrodes inserted into the brain by coating the electrodes with biological molecules that can strengthen the connection between the brain implants and computers while protecting the neurons around the electrodes.

She created and nurtured the curriculum for the neural engineering track at the Swanson School of Engineering, growing the track to 30 participating faculty and graduating 97 neural engineering PhD students. Other programs in her lab focus on on-demand drug delivery in the nervous system; implantable biosensors for cytokines and neurochemicals; control of neural stem cell growth and differentiation via surface and electrical cues; and smart coatings for magnesium-based implants.

Four of her patents have been licensed, with the most significant resulting in a startup company in Pittsburgh created by two of her former students. Interphase Materials, a Pittsburgh based bioengineering company producing anti-fouling materials keeping underwater surfaces clean for power plants, oil and gas exploration, and HVAC systems and more.

“Tracy Cui's induction into the National Academy of Inventors is a well-deserved recognition of her innovative spirit and exceptional contributions to the field of biomedical engineering,” said Mark Redfern, interim chair of the Department of Bioengineering and William Kepler Whiteford Professor. "Her dedication to creating technologies that improve human health is an inspiration to all aspiring inventors, and we look forward to the many breakthroughs she will undoubtedly achieve in the years to come."

This latest class of NAI Senior Members, at 95, the largest to date, demonstrates a shared commitment to celebrate the diversity of the academic ecosystem, with 48 outstanding female and/or minority academic inventors included. Hailing from 50 NAI member institutions and research universities across the nation, members of this class are named inventors on over 1200 issued U.S. patents with many of those being licensed and commercialized.

“I’m delighted to see how this program has expanded in just a couple years’ time,” said Paul R. Sanberg, FNAI, President of NAI, “It really reflects the shift we are seeing at universities where invention is not only being recognized but prioritized as well.”

A full list of NAI Senior Members is available on the NAI website.

Story by Mike Yeomans originally published by the Pitt Innovation Institute. Edited and republished with permission.