Presentation of BU Innovator of the Year Award (2011)

Remarks by Provost Jean Morrison
Presentation of BU Innovator of the Year Award
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
‘Tech, Drugs and Rock & Roll’ event, George Sherman Union

Vinit, thank you for those kind words and, even more so, for your leadership of such an extraordinary effort here. The bridge between innovation and accomplishment has seldom been more clearly demonstrated than by this evening’s event and what it celebrates.

Now, I’ll admit the title ‘Tech, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll’ raised more than an eyebrow when the invitation to this event arrived in my mailbox.

But it is hard to imagine a gathering more substantive or more indicative of the possibilities offered here in this incredible laboratory. And it is wonderful to see the mark our talented students and scholars are making on a national and global scale.

As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Boston University has a history of being not only an incubator of ideas and discovery… but a motivator of action, entrepreneurship, and transformative solutions to the challenges of the day.

With more than $420 million in research grants awarded each year to our campus, BU students, faculty and alumni are taking their research to the next level.

They are building software to help those with disabilities lead increasingly more accessible lives. Researchers, like Dr. Tyrone Porter in our College of Engineering, are marrying medicine and nanotechnology to create new cancer treatments that attack tumors from the inside out without causing debilitating side effects commonly associated with chemotherapy.

Our medical school’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy is working with the National Football League in the first partnership of its kind to discover new treatments for traumatic brain injuries in athletes and other patients.

And scientists like Drs. Edward Damiano and Firas El-Khatib in the College of Engineering are developing new breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of diabetes through the invention of, among other things, an artificial pancreas.

Now, before I go any further, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the outstanding leadership of our Vice President and Associate Provost for Research, Dr. Andrei Ruckenstein, who oversees the university’s continually expanding roster of research enterprises. Andrei works to bring together key constituencies and helps to build vital new partnerships and compete for new grants, both at home and abroad.

It is these kinds of partnerships and grants – like the Coulter Translational Partnership program in Biomedical Engineering… like the university’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health… that today nurture not only the advance of life-saving technologies, but the entrepreneurial spirit of the researchers creating them.

At Boston University, we have always believed in the transforming of groundbreaking research into commercially successful solutions. There is no greater way to democratize the advances achieved here for the broader public… and no greater advertisement for the possibilities and promise offered by this institution.

It is this spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that brings us together this evening as we recognize individuals who have been extraordinarily successful. One need not look far to find BU researchers who each day translate the inspiration sparked here into real world results and achievement.

For example, Professor Jim Collins’ startup company Novophage is changing the way large industries, from paper-making to oil exploration and air-cooling, keep critical machinery running by eliminating bacterial build-up in wet conditions.

Professor Amit Meller’s NobleGen, meanwhile, is working to help doctors incorporate DNA research into routine clinical practice and, in turn, discover new personalized treatments and targeted therapies for disease.

And Professor Raj Mohanty’s company, Sand 9, is changing the way silicon nanotechnology is integrated into communications timing applications, from WiFi and 3G networking to GPS.

These scholars are at the pinnacle of their respective fields. They also typify how cutting-edge research here at BU can translate into solutions that improve lives and succeed commercially. It gives me great pleasure tonight to recognize another such trailblazer.

Each year, Boston University presents its Innovator of the Year award to a faculty member whose research and ideas lead to the formation of companies that benefit society at large.

This year, we are thrilled to recognize someone who is helping to transform the way we detect and treat lung cancer, all the while serving as a mentor for graduate students looking to pursue entrepreneurial careers.

This year’s Innovator of the Year is our own Dr. Avrum Spira, Associate Professor in the BU School of Medicine.

Dr. Spira’s research on lung cancer and the effects of smoking sparked development of a technology that today allows for non-invasive early detection of cancer. With this technology, Dr. Spira and his colleague Dr. Jerome Brody founded Allegro Diagnostics in Maynard, Massachusetts.

Dr. Spira’s accomplishments over the last year have included 14 peer-reviewed papers published, one invention disclosure, two patent filings, more than $3.5 million in National Institutes of Health funding, and $8.9 million invested in Allegro Diagnostics.

In addition to his professorial work, Dr. Spira attends in the BU Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit and is Chief of the Division of Computational Biomedicine. He also directs the Translational Bioinformatics core within our Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

At his core, Dr. Spira exemplifies the kind of researcher Boston University claims as one of its own – a teacher invested in the success of young physicians; a scientist committed to discovering new solutions to everyday problems; and a genuinely approachable clinician who cares deeply about the long-term health and well-being of his patients.

I know we are all eager to hear from Dr. Spira, so it is with great pleasure that I hand over this podium to him and present him with Boston University’s 2011 Innovator of the Year award.