Press release | 7.6.2018
Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye/Munich, 7 June 2018 - The European Patent Office (EPO) honoured US scientist and chemical engineer Esther Sans Takeuchi with the European Inventor Award in the "Non-EPO countries" category, one of five award categories, at a ceremony held today in Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Sans Takeuchi developed the compact batteries that power tiny, implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) - devices that detect and correct irregular, potentially fatal, heart rhythms. Her lithium silver vanadium oxide ("Li/SVO") battery extended the power-source lifetime for ICDs to around five years, considerably longer than its predecessors, thus reducing the number of surgeries patients needed to undergo to replace them. Her invention led not only to an advance in battery chemistry, but also enabled the production and widespread adoption of ICDs and significantly improved patient well-being.
"Esther Sans Takeuchi's innovative work on energy storage and power sources is enabling lifesaving technologies that benefit millions of heart patients," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. "Her developments in the field of battery technology have also made her one of the most prolific US women inventors. She serves as an exceptional role model for women in science today, while demonstrating the immense advances in human well-being that science and technology can bring about."
Esther Sans Takeuchi is one of four women inventors being honoured with the 2018 European Inventor Award, the highest number ever since the Award was launched in 2006.
The Award ceremony at the Théâtre
Alexandre Dumas was attended by some 600 guests from the areas of politics, business, intellectual property
and science. The Award is presented annually by the EPO to distinguish outstanding
inventors from Europe and around the world who have made an exceptional
contribution to social development, technological progress and economic growth.
The winners were chosen by an independent international jury from a nomination list of more than 500 individuals
and teams of inventors put forward for this year's Award.
When the first ICD was implanted in 1980, the relatively bulky device - placed in the patient's abdominal region due to its size - required battery replacement every 12 to 18 months. The resulting frequent surgeries presented an additional risk for patients who were already suffering from heart problems. As a materials scientist and chemical engineer, Esther Sans Takeuchi focused her expertise on developing a better solution:
"We took on the almost impossible challenge of developing a battery that would last five years, and have one million times higher power than the pacemaker battery," Sans Takeuchi says. "We achieved this through several innovations: a new cathode material, a highly conductive electrolyte, and a novel cell design that enabled high power."
As a result of her work, ICD batteries now offer significantly greater longevity and are small enough to be fitted underneath a patient's collarbone in the same location that pacemakers are placed. Sans Takeuchi's Li/SVO batteries are now the most commonly used batteries in implantable cardiac defibrillators. With about 300 000 of these devices implanted each year worldwide, they are quite literally life-savers - using a high-voltage shock to reset the heart and prevent sudden death in high-risk patients who are susceptible to cardiac arrest.
The battery technology was first employed in an implanted ICD in 1987 and commercialised by US medical device manufacturer Greatbatch, where Sans Takeuchi headed research and development for batteries. Speaking about the development of the technology, the inventor says: "We were very clever in how we approached patents; we realised that patents could be a strategic advantage for the company."
The daughter of Latvian emigrants, Esther Sans Takeuchi credits her parents for instilling in her a strong work ethic from a young age and for awakening her interest in science. Today, she is recognised as one of the world's leading energy storage researchers and also one of the most successful US woman inventors, with over 150 US patents and 39 European patents to her name. Since 2012, she is the SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Materials Science and Engineering department at Stony Brook, New York, as well as Chief Scientist of the Energy Sciences Directorate at Brookhaven National Laboratory. After 40 years in industry and academia, she continues to work at the forefront of battery technology innovation:
seem to be simple, but in reality they are very complex," the inventor
says. "The mechanisms are still not fully
understood, and so research continues."
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