Newswise — The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has named Jian Yang, professor of biomedical engineering, as an NAI Fellow. Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional distinction accorded to 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.

Yang’s work has in the past decade centered on citrate, a natural product of citrus fruit and also a cellular metabolite, which is the intermediate end product of cell metabolism that can have various functions in the human body. He established a methodology of biomaterials design based on citrate’s unique chemistry and biology, and has applied this methodology in a number of biomedical applications such as orthopedic devices, soft and hard tissue engineering, biosensing and bioimaging.

One signature discovery that Yang is known for is identifying new fluorescent chemical structures by a simple reaction between citrate and various amino acids and understanding the fluorescence mechanism behind these structures. This knowledge has been translated into the development of a series of novel biodegradable fluorescent polymers and small molecules. This holds promise for meeting many pressing medical challenges such as efficient sweat tests for cystic fibrosis diagnosis and targeting nanoparticles for cancer imaging and vascular drug delivery.

In addition, Yang uncovered the poorly understood mechanism behind the body’s use of citrate to regenerate bone. His lab discovered that stem cells membranes have a transporter that transports citrate into the cell to elevate cellular energy levels. When the stem cells differentiate to make new bone cells, they require more energy for this process, and need to regulate the citrate supply being transferred to stem cells. Yang named this process “citrate metabonegenic regulation.” Such unprecedented understanding has resulted in the development of novel citrate-based orthopedic biomaterials for better bone healing and repair in many orthopedic conditions.

Yang’s citrate technology innovation has resulted in 90 patent applications of which 21 patents have been issued including 14 U.S. patents and seven international patents. He has also published 123 journal articles and book chapters. 

“Dr. Yang’s contributions to our department, and to biomedical engineering in general, have been profound,” said Cheng Dong, head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “He is a deserving recipient of this honor, and everyone in the department is thrilled to see his work recognized at such a high level.”

Yang will be formerly inducted as part of the Eighth NAI Annual Meeting in Houston, TX, on April 11, 2019. Andrew Hirshfeld, United States Patent and Trademark Office commissioner for patents, will deliver the keynote address for the induction ceremony. In honor of his outstanding accomplishments, Yang will receive a special trophy, a medal and a rosette pin. Along with Yang, included this year’s NAI Fellows are more than 25 presidents and senior leaders of research universities and non-profit research institutes; five recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology & Innovation and U.S. National Medal of Science; and three Nobel Laureates.