COLUMBUS, Ohio—Two faculty members in The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences have been elected to the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) 2020 class of Fellows.
Monica Giusti, professor of food science and technology, and Judit Puskas, professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering, join a class of 175 academic innovators representing universities and governmental or nonprofit research institutes named to the Fellows program this year. They are the 11th and 12th Ohio State inventors to be chosen as NAI Fellows.
“The work done by our newest NAI Fellows demonstrates the breadth of research expertise that can be found at Ohio State – and, in this instance, within a single college,” said Morley O. Stone, senior vice president for research.
“Dr. Giusti and Dr. Puskas are influencing the global food and health care industries, respectively, in ways that directly affect people’s lives. It’s exciting to see the National Academy of Inventors recognize their innovations.”
An Ohio State faculty member since 2004, Giusti focuses on harnessing the beneficial properties of naturally occurring compounds in colorful fruits and vegetables for their potential use in a variety of other food products. These phytochemicals, and particularly anthocyanins, which are pigments that provide red to blue colors to a wide variety of plants, are known to be antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
The trick: teasing out the chemical structures of those compounds, identifying their specific purpose in plants and determining ways to effectively transfer that healthful function into foods with a long shelf life – without making them less appealing in the process.
“We’re learning what is happening already in nature, and how we can replicate those conditions in a variety of foods,” Giusti said.
Typical consumer behavior is part of her motivation. Because many people don’t eat the daily recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables, her lab collaborates with industry partners to insert some of the plant-based benefits into more commonly consumed foods.
“It is very difficult to change dietary habits,” Giusti said. “It can be easier to replace an ingredient that might be providing only color with something that is providing more phytochemicals – some of the benefits of fruits and vegetables – while we continue to educate consumers about the benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption.”
Most recently, her lab has focused on the fact that anthocyanins found in the grapes used to produce red wine change shape and size during the fermentation process, becoming more stable and creating color with staying power.
“We are now accelerating things that nature is doing already, adhering to the natural course the compounds would follow, to see if we can speed the process to make them commercially available,” she said.
Additional recognitions for Giusti’s work include receiving the CFAES 2020 Senior Faculty Researcher of the Year Award, the 2019 William V. Cruess Excellence in Teaching Award from the Institute of Food Technologists, and the 2017 Educator Award from the North American Colleges and Teachers in Agriculture.
Puskas is a relative newcomer to Ohio State, joining the faculty in 2019, but has had a long industry and academic career in rubber technology, developing polymers with multiple applications.
She is perhaps known best as a co-inventor, while she was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Akron, of the polymer used to coat the Taxus coronary stent licensed by Boston Scientific, which has been implanted in more than 10 million patients.
The material had a particularly useful property: recyclability.
“We were working on a particular rubber, and the beauty of it is that it’s recyclable, so you can melt it down and make another shape out of it,” Puskas said. “We didn’t know that it would end up as a polymer coating on a coronary stent.”
Since then, she has continued to refine the polymer technology, bolstering its impermeability and taking advantage of its ability to be used inside the body without generating a damaging immune response. Most recently, she filed a patent disclosure of her invention of a COVID-19 mask.
For two decades, Puskas has been working on development of a polymer coating for a breast cancer reconstruction implant that contains drugs.
“The implant becomes storage for the drug, and the coating allows the drug to slowly release into the body. It could be used in place of intravenous chemotherapy,” she said. “The beauty of this is we are very close.”
In 2012, Puskas was one of five winners of the GE Healthymagination Breast Cancer Challenge Award, selected from 500 international applications. She also was the first woman to receive the Charles Goodyear Gold Medal from the American Chemical Society. A Breast Cancer Innovation Foundation was established in Akron to support her breast implant research.
The NAI Fellows Program was established to highlight academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific 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. Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors.
Giusti, Puskas and the rest of the 2020 class of Fellows will be inducted on June 8, 2021, during the NAI’s Tenth Annual Meeting scheduled to be held in Tampa, Florida.