Kristi Henderson
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Inaugural inventor prize recognizes KU researcher

Wed, 11/02/2016

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas professor has been selected as one of the five inaugural recipients of a major fellowship for outstanding inventors for her work to combat superbug resistance to antibiotic drugs.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation announced Joanna Slusky, assistant professor of molecular biosciences and computational biology, as a Moore Inventor Fellow. This new fellowship program recognizes early-career innovators at U.S. universities with a high potential to accelerate progress in scientific research, environmental conservation and patient care.

Slusky’s invention is a protein that will resensitize bacteria to common antibiotics, thereby overcoming drug-resistant superbugs. Her invention could have a global effect on antibiotic resistance and re-establish the efficacy of antibiotics.

“This is a highly competitive award. For Joanna to be selected among the first class of recipients speaks volumes to her talents as a researcher and innovator,” said Carl Lejuez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. “Her invention holds tremendous promise, and I am thrilled to see her recognized among the premier early-career researchers in the U.S.”

Each fellow will receive a total of $825,000 over three years to drive their invention forward, including $50,000 per year from their home institution as commitment to these outstanding individuals. Beginning with these five fellows in 2016, the foundation will invest nearly $34 million during the next 10 years to support 50 Moore Inventor Fellows.

Nominations for the award were open only to Association of American Universities (AAU) institutions and 15 additional institutions from the top 50 National Institutes of Health-funded medical schools. Slusky’s nomination was supported by the KU Office of Research.

“Joanna’s work and recognition build on a legacy of entrepreneurial research at KU, especially in the areas of medicine and drug development,” said James Tracy, vice chancellor for research. “Her research shows significant potential to help safeguard antibiotics, one of the most revolutionary advancements in modern medicine.”

Slusky joined the KU faculty in 2014 after studying at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania, with postdoctoral positions at Stockholm University in Sweden and Fox Chase Cancer Center in Pennsylvania. She has received grants and fellowships from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. She uses both computational and experimental methods for protein design, a sophisticated approach aimed at practical outcomes in basic and clinical science. Her lab is focused on the mechanisms of outer membrane proteins and their potential in cancer treatment, drug applications and environmental remediation.

In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted the doubling of components on an integrated circuit every 18 months. From careful observation of an emerging trend, Moore extrapolated that computing would dramatically increase in power, and decrease in relative cost, at an exponential pace. This observation helped fuel the technological advancement and acceleration we have seen in the past 50 years. With the creation of the Moore Inventor Fellows, the foundation hopes to enable breakthroughs that accelerate progress over the next 50 years. 

“We are investing in promising scientist-inventor-problem solvers with a passion for inventing – like Gordon Moore himself,” said Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “By providing support to these early-career researchers, we can give them the freedom to try out new ideas that could make a real and positive difference.”

The fellows will be recognized at an event later today at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California.

The Department of Molecular Biosciences and the Center for Computational Biology are part of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, which is home to more than 50 departments, programs and centers. Through innovative research and teaching, the College emphasizes interdisciplinary education, global awareness and experiential learning. The College is KU's broadest, most diverse academic unit.

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