The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has named Robin Polt, PhD, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Arizona College of Science and of pharmacology and toxicology at the R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy to its 2022 class of Senior Members. NAI Senior Members are widely regarded as the world’s top academic inventors.
NAI Senior Members are active faculty, scientists, and administrators from NAI member institutions who have demonstrated remarkable innovation in 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.
“It is so gratifying to be recognized today for the application of my ‘crazy ideas’ that I had more than 20 years ago,” Dr. Polt said. “I hope this will encourage younger inventors to endure, even if your best ideas are not immediately recognized.”
Dr. Polt, a founding member of the BIO5 Institute, researches molecules involved in chronic and neuropathic pain, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI), Parkinson’s and vascular dementia. His work has given rise to glycopeptide drugs for the treatment of numerous diseases and syndromes. He gave them this name because they use the brain’s own hormones and neurotransmitters to be converted into brain-penetrating drugs.
“While I am proud of the research we have done with opioid analgesics and with neuroprotective hormones, our newest topic that focuses on the use of oxytocin glycosides as analgesics is pretty neat, too,” said Dr. Polt. “These block pain, but do not have opioid side effects like dependence and respiratory depression and may have the most immediate impact of any research we have done so far.”
Intellectual property emerging from Dr. Polt’s lab has led to the launch of several startups. GlycoSurf produces environmentally friendly glycolipid-based surfactants based on methodologies that the Polt lab developed, and the startup licensed from the university. ProNeurogen is commercializing the first drug, which uses a proprietary brain penetrating hormone, for a form of Alzheimer’s disease called vascular dementia. He is currently working with Tech Launch Arizona (TLA) on the launch of another startup aiming to commercialize treatments for stroke, traumatic brain injury and Parkinson’s Disease.
“Without the efforts of my colleagues in pharmacy, neurology and BIO5 we would not be able to accomplish much,” said Dr. Polt. “Although chemistry is interesting to chemists, it’s the application of chemistry that has impact on the world at large. Having experts in the field of cell biology, physiology and neuroscience is critical to find applications that will have an impact on human health.”
As a mentor, Dr. Polt has trained hundreds of undergraduates and master’s students, and more than 20 of his students have earned their PhD in his lab. Students he has mentored have gone on to take leadership positions at government agencies such as the FBI and FDA; at companies like Roche, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Gilead, Merck and Pfizer; and at academic institutions such as BYU, USC and Columbia University.
“It’s exciting to see UArizona faculty recognized by this honor each year,” said Doug Hockstad, assistant vice president of TLA, the office of the university that works with researchers to commercialize inventions stemming from UArizona innovation. “It’s a clear indicator that not only is UArizona a leader in cutting-edge research and innovation, but that we have a growing cultural and institutional focus on generating impact from those discoveries and achievements.”
In total, the 2022 class of NAI Senior Members hails from 41 research universities. They are named inventors on over 1093 issued U.S. patents. NAI member institutions, including UArizona, are recognized as innovation powerhouses that continuously promote and foster the spirit of innovation.
In addition to Dr. Polt, three other UArizona faculty researchers were among the 83-member 2022 class of Senior Members. UArizona Health Sciences’ Steven Goldman, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, Division of Cardiology, and the C. Leonard Pfeiffer Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine at the Sarver Heart Center; Stanley Pau, PhD, professor in the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences and the College of Engineering; and Judith Su, PhD, also a professor in the Wyant College. Drs. Goldman and Su are also members of the BIO5 Institute.
The 2022 new Senior Members will be inducted at the Senior Member ceremony at the 11th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors June 14-15 in Phoenix.
A version of this story appeared on the Tech Launch Arizona website.