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National Academy of Inventors names Emory’s Bellamkonda, Cooper as 2021 fellows

Emory Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda, a biomedical engineer, and groundbreaking immunologist Max D. Cooper have been named 2021 fellows of the National Academy of Inventors.

Emory University Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda, a biomedical engineer, and groundbreaking immunologist Max D. Cooper have been named 2021 fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.

Bellamkonda and Cooper are among 164 new fellows, hailing from 116 research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes worldwide. Among the new class of fellows are 33 members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and three Nobel Laureates. This year’s class also reflects NAI’s dedicated efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in its membership, with the addition of three outstanding academic female black inventors.

To date, NAI fellows hold more than 48,000 issued U.S. patents, which have generated more than 13,000 licensed technologies and companies, and created more than one million jobs. Their collective body of research and entrepreneurship covers a broad range of scientific disciplines involved with technology transfer of their inventions for the benefit of society.

The 2021 fellows will be inducted at the Fellows Induction Ceremony at the 11th annual meeting of the National Academy of Inventors this upcoming June in Phoenix, Arizona.

Ravi V. Bellamkonda

Ravi V. Bellamkonda, PhD, returned to Emory in 2021 as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, after serving as dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. He was previously chair of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory from 2013 to 2016.

At Duke, Bellamkonda led a redesign of the undergraduate engineering curriculum, oversaw fundraising and new construction and recruited a diverse group of new faculty.

In his research, Bellamkonda and his team have contributed to advances in peripheral nerve repair, brain-machine interfaces and spinal cord injury repair. In recent years, his lab has focused on developing creative and innovative approaches for the treatment of adult and pediatric brain tumors.

“We are interested in the hard question — how does one deal with a tumor that spreads in a very sensitive organ? And for the past 15 years, my lab has been working on ‘out of the box’ ideas to take on this difficult but significant challenge,” Bellamkonda says.

“It is a particular honor to be inducted in the same class of NAI as Max Cooper, who is a hero in my world for his fundamental discoveries in immunology — I am so proud of Emory. We are a place that is constantly discovering new knowledge and inventing new things to make the world better.

“In addition, at Emory, we are ambitious not just to discover and invent new things, but we are also innovative in creating new structures and mechanisms that reward, guide and nurture how our faculty and student discoveries are translated to the market and create value,” Bellamkonda adds.
 
In October, Bellamkonda was awarded an NIH Transformative Research Award for his proposal to use a “tumor tractor beam” to treat an aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer. Together with colleagues at Duke and Emory, his lab will investigate the potential for electrical fields to induce cancer cells to migrate out of tissues they have invaded.
 
Bellamkonda is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed articles with more than 15,000 citations to his work, he holds 10 patents, and has co-founded two startups — Abby Biomed and Exvade Biosciences. He was the past president of American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering from 2014 to 2016.
 
Max D. Cooper
 
Max D. Cooper, MD, is professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and Emory Vaccine Center, and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar. He came to Emory in 2008 from the University of Alabama.
 
Along with Jacques Miller from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia, Cooper was the recipient of the 2019 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, considered one of America’s most prestigious biomedical research awards.
 
Starting in the early 1960s, Cooper’s landmark discoveries have provided a framework for understanding how immune cells fight infection, and how they can undergo abnormal development to cause immune deficiencies, leukemia, lymphomas and autoimmune diseases.
 
Cooper demonstrated that there are two distinct cell lineages in the adaptive immune system: B cells and T cells. B cells develop in the bone marrow and produce antibodies in response to pathogens, while T cells mature in the thymus and help alert B cells to pathogen’s presence; T cells can also detect and kill infected or abnormal cells.
 
“This basic organizing principle has proven to be true for immune system development in all living vertebrate species,” Cooper says.

Working with chickens, he showed that an avian organ called the bursa of Fabricius is the site where B cells mature, and he characterized the different stages of B cell development. Later, Cooper and colleagues showed that, in mammals, B cells are generated in the liver of the fetus and in the bone marrow after birth.
 
More recently, his group’s examinations of lampreys' immune systems have filled out scientists’ understanding of how adaptive immunity evolved in early vertebrates hundreds of millions of years ago. Immune molecules derived from lampreys also have the potential to serve as durable and versatile diagnostic tools or therapeutic agents. With advice from Cooper, Atlanta-based startup company NovAb is currently developing reagents based on lampreys’ variable lymphocyte receptors.
 
Cooper is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2017, he was elected to the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France and to the Royal Society of London, and in 2018, he was awarded the Japan Prize.
 
Cooper has authored more than 470 research articles, and has five patents issued with four more pending. He has mentored 30 graduate students and 121 postdoctoral fellows over the course of his career.
 
The complete list of 2021 NAI Fellows is available here.
 
NAI fellows from Emory named in previous years include David Stephens, Lanny Liebeskind, Rafi Ahmed, Jonathan Langberg, Barbara Rothbaum, Jonathan Lewin, Dennis Liotta, James Wagner, Raymond Schinazi, John Lollar, Helen Mayberg and Huw Davies.