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University of South Florida

Two MCOM faculty members named new Fellows of National Academy of Inventors

Two USF Health Morsani College of Medicine faculty members whose career achievements include inventing new technologies to improve health are among the newly elected Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors.

The honorees include Richard Heller, PhD, a professor of medical engineering who serves as MCOM liaison to the Department of Medical Engineering, and Jean-Francois A. Rossignol, PhD, MD, a courtesy professor in MCOM. Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors.

Richard Heller, PhD

Richard Heller, PhD

Dr. Heller’s pioneering work has provided several foundational breakthroughs in innovative treatments and therapies for many types of cancers, as well as a variety of additional applications. A leading expert in gene electrotransfer, he is recognized as a pioneer in developing efficient delivery systems for plasmid DNA and chemotherapeutics. He demonstrated that plasmid DNA can be delivered to various tissue targets including tumors, skin, muscle, the liver, and the heart.

For more than 30 years, his research has focused on evaluating the use of pulse electric fields to manipulate biological cells and tissues, and developing in vivo delivery procedures for non-viral gene transfer to enhance immunotherapy for cancer treatment.

He received the Iwao Yasuda Award from Society for Physical Regulation in Biology and Medicine, Society for In Vitro Biology Distinguished Service Award, Honor B. Fell Award from the Tissue Culture Association, Frank Reidy Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Bioelectrics, Robert J. Grasso Award for Outstanding Dedication to Graduate Education, and holds Eminent Scholar designation from Old Dominion University, among many other awards. Dr. Heller is a Fellow in the Society for InVitro Biology, an IEEE Senior Member, and a charter member USF’s NAI Chapter.

He holds 37 U.S. patents, including 14 licensed to four companies. Dr. Heller earned his PhD in medical sciences from USF’s College of Medicine in 1989 and did his postdoctoral training here as well. He first joined USF’s medical faculty in 1990, and after more than a decade away at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, he was recruited back to USF in 2019.

Jean-Francois A. Rossignol, PhD, MD

Jean-Francois A. Rossignol, PhD, MD

Dr. Rossignol is a physician, pharmaceutical chemist and a microbiologist who invented four drugs, including one considered by global health experts to be among the most important medicines to guard against parasitic diseases in developing nations. In 1974, he discovered a new class of broad-spectrum antiviral drugs.

After completing his medical training, he worked for the Division of Parasitic Diseases at the World Health Organization and then pursued a career in academia and pharmaceuticals, discovering and developing drugs such as halofantrine for the treatment of resistant falciparum malaria as well as inventing albendazole and nitazoxanide to treat intestinal protozoan and helminthic infections. Both drugs are listed on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines and albendazole is among the most widely used drugs in the world. Another of his drug discoveries, thiazolide aminoxanide, is being developed for the treatment of viral respiratory infections caused by the five classes of viruses infecting the respiratory tract including influenza A and B as Quilick.® The drug also works against the three mosquito-borne viruses endemic in many parts of the world – Zika, chikungunya and dengue.

Dr. Rossignol is the co-founder of the Tampa-based Romark Laboratories, LLC. He holds 41 U.S. patents and is a fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. His many awards include the SGS Life Science Life Achievement in Drug Discovery Award, and his name is engraved on the Wall of Honour of the Royal Society of Medicine in London. In 2016, he received an honorary MD from USF and earlier this year was inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame.

Venkat Bhethanabotla, PhD, a professor in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, was the third USF faculty member elected to the 2020 NIA Class of Fellows. The complete list of new Fellows is here.