Materials chemistry wins at patent industry awards event

Chemistry and materials science were well-represented at a patent community awards night in Washington, DC, this December. The nonprofit Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation held its annual awards gala on Dec. 6 and named 2023 Priestley Medal winner and ACS member Cato Laurencin inventor of the year. Laurencin is a professor at the University of Connecticut, where his research group develops polymer biomaterials for tissue regrowth and other regenerative medical applications. He is named on more than 60 patents.

In his remarks, Laurencin praised his students and collaborators as critical to the growing impact of regenerative engineering in medicine. “I’m receiving this award for the generations of people who have worked in the Laurencin lab for the past 35 years,” he said. “We will continue working for the final goal of limb regeneration.”

Laurencin told C&EN that he is excited about chemical and materials advances underway in his lab. He pointed to a November publication from the group on injectable chelating agents derived from hyaluronic acid, a biopolymer found in joints, eyeballs, and other tissues. The material can scavenge toxic cobalt ions that sometimes leach from the alloys in orthopedic implants (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 2023, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2309156120) . He also highlighted ongoing work on a polymer and protein hybrid system that can induce tissue regrowth through mechanisms similar to those seen in stem cell therapies.

Laurencin shared the stage with Audrey Larson, a junior at the University of Connecticut in the materials science and engineering department, who won this year’s Inspiration Award. Larson already has multiple patents, including some for carbon dioxide abatement and mobile bulletproof shelter systems. When asked about her favorite invention so far, Larson told C&EN, “My favorite is always the one I’m currently working on. Right now, it’s a project for the US Navy, so I can’t talk about it.”

Larson is heading soon to Houston for a NASA internship, which she says will delay her graduation but help her make decisions about graduate school. She and Laurencin have not worked together, but they met in connection with the awards. He says he encouraged her NASA work but advised her to come back to Connecticut afterward. “You’re doing grad school here,” he told her, “with me.”

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