Press release | 17.6.2021
Munich, 17 June 2021 - Serbian-American biomedical engineer Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic has been awarded the Popular Prize of the European Inventor Award 2021 during a digital ceremony today, having received the most public votes in an online poll. Vunjak-Novakovic opened new horizons in regenerative medicine by developing a way of growing new tissue ex vivo (outside the body) using the patient's own cells. Her ground-breaking approach offers a safer, more precise and less intrusive way of performing facial reconstruction, and holds promise for replacing damaged lung and heart tissue.
"This Award underlines how innovation touches the lives of people everywhere in the world," said EPO President António Campinos. "After an incredibly challenging year, public enthusiasm for Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic's invention also reflects a firm optimism that human creativity, passion for innovation and ingenuity will help us move towards a brighter future."
The 2021 European Inventor Award ceremony was held digitally for the first time, and was open to the public who tuned in to the event from around the world. The Award, one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes, is presented annually by the EPO to distinguish outstanding inventors from Europe and beyond who have made an exceptional contribution to society, technological progress and economic growth.
Every year, the public can vote online for their favourite inventor from among the Award finalists in the run-up to the Award ceremony, and the Popular Prize goes to the shortlisted inventor with the most votes. Voting this year was open from 4 May until 17 June 2021. Fifteen inventors or teams of inventors from around the world were finalists in five categories: Industry, Lifetime achievement, Non-EPO countries, SMEs and Research. While the winners of these five categories are selected by the Award jury, it is the public alone that selected Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic to take home the 2021 Popular Prize.
Named by the European Inventor Award jury as one of three finalists in the "Lifetime achievement" category, Vunjak-Novakovic has dedicated her decades-long career to developing an ex vivo tissue engineering technique to grow skeletal, heart, lung and vascular tissue for either transplantation, disease modelling, or drug testing.
Vunjak-Novakovic's pioneering technique involves creating living biological grafts by growing a new piece of tissue in a laboratory from a patient's own cells which is then implanted into the body. This achievement was possible thanks to her research on the specific environment that cells need to form different tissue types, and has had far-reaching implications for scientists in the biomedical field.
The Columbia University professor, researcher, author and entrepreneur's work has successfully solved the intricate problems involved in replacing damaged tissue. Before she developed her technique, tissue replacement either involved a painful graft from a patient's body, or carried the risk of immune rejection in the case of grafts taken from a cadaver. As the method involves growing tissue from a patient's own cells, these problems are entirely eliminated, bringing benefits in treating patients with worn out or diseased tissue and organs.
Winners of the European Inventor Award 2021 in the other categories are:
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
Serbian-American biomedical engineer Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic was born in Belgrade, Serbia, in 1948. Currently residing in New York, USA, she is a University Professor, the highest academic rank at Columbia University, and the first engineer to ever receive this distinction. She is also the Mikati Foundation's Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Medical Sciences, Professor of Dental Medicine and Director of the Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering at Columbia University, New York. In 2008 Vunjak-Novakovic was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and has received numerous awards, including the Pritzker Award of the Biomedical Engineering Society, and Shu Chien Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. In 2020, she was decorated with the Order of the Star of Karađorđe, Serbia's highest honour. In 2021, she received the Pierre Galletti Award, the highest honour that the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering bestows on an individual. She has been elected to the Academia Europaea, Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Inventors, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Vunjak-Novakovic is named in many patents, including EP2408401 and EP1112348, granted in 2016 and 2005 respectively, which form the basis for her nomination as a finalist of the European Inventor Award 2021.
The European Inventor Award is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the EPO in 2006, it honours individual inventors and teams of inventors whose pioneering inventions provide answers to some of the biggest challenges of our times. The finalists and winners are selected by an independent jury consisting of international authorities from the fields of business, politics, science, academia and research who examine the proposals for their contribution towards technical progress, social development, economic prosperity and job creation in Europe. The Award is conferred in five categories (Industry, Research, SMEs, Non-EPO countries and Lifetime achievement). In addition, the public selects the winner of the Popular Prize from among the 15 finalists through online voting.
With 6 400 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO's centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also the world's leading authority in patent information and patent searching.
Luis Berenguer Giménez
Principal Director Communication, Spokesperson
Tel.: +49 89 2399 1203