Dr. Shannon Boye Named Innovator of the Year

UF Innovate Honors University of Florida Innovators at Sixth Annual Standing InnOvation Celebration

By Andrea Dautant
UF Innovate writer

UF Innovate’s annual celebration honored nearly 600 University of Florida researchers who disclosed, optioned, or licensed technologies or received an issued patent in fiscal year 2023 and crowned one Innovator of the Year and six Inventions of the Year.

Gainesville, FL – UF Innovate | Tech Licensing hosted its sixth annual Standing InnOvation event on Wednesday, October 18, to honor and celebrate innovators and their work at the University of Florida in fiscal year 2023.

Standing InnOvation gives UF innovators a well-deserved “standing ovation” for disclosing, licensing, or optioning technologies in the fiscal year. In the 2023 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, innovators disclosed 300 technologies, licensed 118, and started 15 companies.

This year’s event included an InnOvation Showcase, occurring in concert with the reception. Ten of UF’s 16 colleges showcased interactive innovations by their researchers, and guests engaged with the kiosks as they enjoyed the networking reception.

The 2023 Innovator of the Year

When selecting an Innovator of the Year, UF Innovate considers a researcher’s body of work and selects one who has made significant scientific contributions that have been licensed and taken to the marketplace, sometimes by the researcher launching a startup based on the discoveries.

Dr. Shannon Boye is this year’s Innovator of the Year.

A professor and associate division chief for cellular and molecular therapy in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Dr. Shannon Boye, “…is a shining star in the field of ophthalmology and gene therapy…” said Dr. Jackson Streeter, director of UF Innovate | Ventures.

Not only is Dr. Boye a scientist and a dedicated educator, but she is also an entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Atsena Therapeutics, a UF clinical-stage, gene therapy startup company based on the research conducted in the Shannon E. Boye Laboratory. Atsena Therapeutics has two clinical programs and a pre-clinical program for ocular gene therapy. The company has ongoing clinical trials for a gene therapy product treating one of the most common causes of blindness in children.

“It’s hard to describe Shannon and do her right because she is a very bright, exceptional, dedicated scientist with a charismatic and bubbly, easy-going personality who works hard to bring light to children with inherited blindness,” said Dr. Hera Lichtenbeld, who manages Dr. Boye’s portfolio at Tech Licensing.

Dr. Boye is a visionary scientist whose contributions to the ophthalmology and gene therapy fields are inspiring and open avenues for new, innovative treatment.

“Her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of those affected by retinal diseases stands as a testament to her exceptional character and enduring legacy in the world of medical research,” said Dr. Streeter.

The 2023 Inventions of the Year

Each of the six licensing teams chooses one Invention of the Year. Out of the 300 technologies disclosed in fiscal year 2023, licensing officers select one within their portfolio that stands out to them as having great potential.

The inventions selected this year range from next-generation gene vectors to enzyme inhibitors for potent herbicides to a system using AI and machine learning for personalizing patient care. These innovations look to the future, pushing the limits and revolutionizing their respective fields.

These are this year’s awardees:

Generation of a Defined Bacterial Consortium Enhancing Anti-PD-1 Mediated Anti-Tumor Activity in NSCLC

In medicine, you don’t often think of bacteria as beneficial. However, that is exactly what Drs. Christian Jobin and Rachel Newsome are doing with their Invention of the Year.

Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death, worldwide. Over 80% of lung cancers are Non-Small Cell Lung Carcinoma (NSCLC), which only has an approximate five-year survival rate. Any potential improvements to therapies for this type of cancer would vastly improve patient outcomes.

Dr. Christian Jobin, a tenured professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at the University of Florida College of Medicine, and his co-inventor, Dr. Rachel Newsome, a postdoctoral fellow, have identified six-strain consortia of gut biome bacteria that can potentially make tumors that were previously nonresponsive to check-point inhibitor therapies, responsive.

“It’s a pretty amazing change in cancer therapy,” said Dr. Rachel Harding, the licensing officer managing this technology.

Drs. Jobin and Newsome are working to identify the molecule responsible for this effect. If the inventors or commercial partners can reach the point where they have a molecule that can be administered with checkpoint inhibitor therapies, 75% of the patient population would be responsive to the therapy.

Generation Z Single-Stranded AAV Serotype Vectors

UF is the birthplace of AAV. Dr. Arun Srivastava and his team are continuing the legacy of Dr. Kenneth Burns, the Godfather of AAV, and the reason the groundbreaking research exists on campus.

Gene therapy is a well-known form of treatment for various diseases, using vectors to treat patients. While a generation of promising and functioning vectors exist, and ongoing trials are going well, few gene therapies are being approved. Some hurdles still need to be overcome to make them better.

Dr. Arun Srivastava, a George H. Kitzman professor of genetics and chief of the Division of Cellular and Molecular Therapy in the Departments of Pediatrics, and Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, and Powell Gene Therapy Center at the University of Florida College of Medicine, along with Drs. Keyun Qing and Jakob Shoti, a biological scientist and graduate assistant in the Arun Srivastava Lab, have developed the NextGen-high-efficiency-vectors.

The vectors in current gene therapies are first-generation vectors, which patients have shown to have adverse immune responses. The Generation Z single-stranded AAV serotype vector is more efficient. It overcomes several rate-limiting steps in DNA synthesis and dampens the host immune responses in patients, making it highly promising.

“We’re trying to have our cake and eat it too. We’re trying to have disease remediation but not adverse events to the high dosage,” said Dr. Jakob Shoti.

A Transformer Impedance Balance Technique for Isolated Converters

Smaller. Denser. Cheaper.

These three words describe the Invention of the Year from Dr. Shuo Wang, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his collaborator Qinghui Huang, in a nutshell.

In electronics, power needs to be processed and converted. However, problems arise when converting from one circuit, or current, to another. The conversion often produces electromagnetic background noise in which the wavelengths interfere with the electronic functions. Designers have gotten around this interference by putting conductive insulation around the transformers. While effective, as devices get smaller, the insulation adds bulk, impacting the device’s efficiency.

Dr. Wang’s technology enables the internal dampening of the background noise. It does away with needing a massive amount of conductive shielding to drown out the radio interference, leading to smaller and better-performing electronic devices. Additionally, it will have considerable cost-savings for materials and manufacturing.

“Dr. Wang is like all of our inventors; producing cutting-edge research,” said Dr. Rick Croley, the licensing officer working with this technology.

Stereoregular Cyclic Polypropylene

Polypropylene is the largest manufactured plastic in the world, with 70 million metric tons made and sold each year. Dr. Adam Veige, a professor of chemistry in the Department of Chemistry and director of the Center for Catalysis at the University of Florida, has invented a cyclic version of polypropylene.

For fifty years, researchers have been interested in applying cyclic polymers. However, the synthesis was challenging and not possible. Dr. Veige devoted a significant effort to developing novel, patented catalysts that produce cyclic polymers, including cyclic polypropylene. This Invention of the Year uses a ring expansion tungsten catalyst to generate commercially relevant cyclic polymers.

Cyclic polymers exhibit unique properties and can fine-tune the properties of polypropylene. This technology has the potential to capture a huge market and be licensable to some of the biggest polymer companies in the world.

Engineering and Use of Methylated Variants of Plastoquinone as Synthetic Inhibitors of Photosynthesis

This invention sprung from a simple question, “Why have things evolved the way they have?”

The result? A technology with a broad and practical real-world application.

Dr. Gilles Basset, an associate professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences, and his co-inventors, Drs. Lauren Stutt and Scott Latimer, post-doctoral researchers, began researching quinones. This class of compound is at the core of energy production of all cells in living organisms and has been historically difficult to study.

Through their research, they discovered an enzyme and an inhibitor of the enzyme. Over time, crops develop resistance to herbicides. By looking at the specificity of the enzyme and identifying the inhibitor, Dr. Bassett was able to manipulate the metabolism and potentially develop a new, potent herbicide. This is vital as the world seeks to improve agricultural productivity.

“[This] generation of new knowledge has led us to discover a completely new mechanism of action and a discovery of a new herbicide and molecule,” said Dr. Bassett.

Aligning Patient Acuity with Resource Intensity after Major Surgery

AI and machine learning are major areas of interest but their function in everyday life is not always seen.

Dr. Tyler Loftus, a trauma surgeon and assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, and his collaborators, Drs. Benjamin Shickel, Azra Bihorac, Matthew Ruppert, and Dr. Parisa Rashidi, from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, are turning to AI and machine learning to personalize patient care.

In hospitals, patients with the most acuity, or illness severity, require the most critical care resources while patients with lower risk for postoperative complications can be safely discharged to a lower resource environment, like the hospital floor. This technology uses machine learning and AI to measure patient acuity and predict their risk for hospital mortality and/or prolonged ICU admission. With it, physicians can personalize the level of care to a particular patient.

“Doing [this] research can potentially help, not just the patients I meet and take care of here at the University of Florida, but impact patients across the country and around the world,” said Dr. Loftus.

In conclusion

All of these inventors received special recognition at Standing InnOvation received trophies fitted with Edison lightbulbs, a tribute to their innovation that has the potential to brighten the world in some way.

In addition to those awards, UF Innovate | Tech Licensing honored all inventors disclosed a discovery or who had technologies patented, optioned, or licensed. Patent mugs, optioning certificates, or license plates, fitted with their names and the specifics of their technology, were created and put on display for all to see.

Standing InnOvation is “standing invitation” to UF innovators to work with Tech Licensing. Their discoveries have the potential to better the world, and the office stands ready to protect and transfer their technologies from the lab into the marketplace to make a positive difference.