The National Academy of Inventors named Dr. Cheryl L. Willman and Plamen B. Atanassov on Tuesday as 2017 Fellows, distinguishing them as some of the most-impactful researchers among some 250 universities and research institutions worldwide. Willman is a distinguished professor of pathology and director and CEO of UNM’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Atanassov is a distinguished professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of the UNM Center for Micro Engineered Materials.
They’re among 155 inventors worldwide named as fellows this year. The annual distinction recognizes academic researchers who have demonstrated a “prolific spirit of innovation” through inventions that impact quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.
Three other UNM researchers have received it in past years.
“Dr. Willman and Dr. Atanassov have had a tremendous impact on fostering a culture of innovation … that is felt on local, national and international levels,” said UNM Chief Economic Development Officer Lisa Kuuttila.
Willman has used next-generation genomic sequencing to study the genetic makeup of leukemia, leading to discovery of genetic mutations in many cancer-stricken children and adults that block the benefits of traditional chemotherapy. The research found particularly high rates of mutation among Hispanic and Native American children and adults.
That led to development of new pharmaceuticals to specifically target and inhibit mutated cells, allowing traditional chemotherapy to work. Willman’s team at UNM did extensive laboratory experiments with the drugs, followed by five national clinical studies through the National Cancer Institute.