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ENG Student Wins Collegiate Inventors Competition

Treatment for persistent infections takes first prize and $15K


Kyle Allison won first place and a $15,000 prize on Tuesday in the annual Collegiate Inventors Competition for his discovery of a simple and inexpensive therapy for persistent infections.

“It’s so surreal,” Allison says. “When they announced the winner was from BU, I didn’t realize at first that they meant me.”

Allison, a College of Engineering PhD candidate, was one of nine graduate finalists (working on six projects) in the national contest, which drew some 100 entries from around the United States and Canada. The finalists gave their presentations Monday in Washington, D.C., and winners were announced yesterday in the two categories, graduate and undergraduate.

Working in the lab of James Collins, a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and an ENG professor of biomedical engineering, Allison (ENG’12) found that sugar helps to wake up the dormant bacteria that cause persistent infections, thus increasing their vulnerability to antibiotics. He and Collins published the study in the journal Nature last spring.

A sugar-antibiotics combination could be used to wipe out recurring infections such as those of the ear, throat, lungs, and urinary tract, all of which can spread to vital organs if left unchecked. The most significant impact of the research could be on tuberculosis, a chronic bacterial infection of the lungs, which kills about 1.7 million people a year, according to the World Health Organization.

Allison says that as a graduate student, he had never contemplated having such a windfall, and he’s not sure what he will do with the $15,000.

The contest is operated by Invent Now, a nonprofit that encourages invention, and is sponsored by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Abbott Fund, a philanthropic organization, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which is devoted to entrepreneurship.

Amy Sutherland, What Shamu Taught Me About Life Love and Marriage, Boston Globe, Boston University
Amy Sutherland

Amy Sutherland can be reached at alks@bu.edu.

2 Comments on ENG Student Wins Collegiate Inventors Competition

  • John X. Tsirimokos on 11.16.2011 at 8:22 am

    I was part of the 1st engineering class that started out as freshmen ( class of ’55 ); the 1st class to graduate was ’54 ,it was composed of students transferring in as sophomores. Aeronautical Engineering was the only major ( the term “aerospace” did not exist) .
    Bio-med engineering was beyond our dreams –however , we sent people to the moon ,designed supersonic airplanes , cruise missiles , etc . But! our greatest achievement was to be pioneers for what is now one of the foremost engineering schools in the country .
    Kyle, you have honored BU .

  • Susie Foster on 12.19.2011 at 12:39 pm

    This is so cool! What an elegant finding. Kyle, I’m sure you’ll think of something for those $15,000 but if you’re seriously out of ideas, just give me a call!

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