Randy Blakely and Amy Wright Named as 2017 NAI Fellows

Florida Atlantic University entrance

By brittany sylvestri | 12/12/2017

Randy Blakely, Ph.D., executive director of the Florida Atlantic University Brain Institute and biomedical science professor in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, and Amy Wright, Ph.D., research professor at FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, have been named National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Fellows.

Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional accolade bestowed solely 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 welfare of society.

 “This is a tremendous honor and well-deserved recognition for Dr. Blakely and Dr. Wright,” said FAU President John Kelly. “They join the ranks of other distinguished NAI Fellows and we couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments and contributions to science. FAU is very fortunate to have two such renowned academic inventors.”

As executive director of the university-wide Brain Institute, Blakely oversees the neuroscience centers and programs within FAU. He is an internationally renowned neuroscientist and leading expert in synaptic pharmacology, neurotransmitter transporters and neurogenetics. For more than two decades, Blakely’s lab has explored the molecular mechanisms that underlie brain function and drug responses, focusing on how transporter proteins acting at the synapse insure high fidelity neural signaling. His team has uncovered multiple instances where mutations in brain transporters lead to changes in physiology and behavior, increasing risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism, ADHD and depression. Blakely and his colleagues also have sought to understand how existing drugs, including antidepressants (e.g. SSRIs) and psychostimulants (e.g. cocaine, amphetamine) carry out their actions, and how a better understanding of synaptic molecules can lead to novel medications. This research has led them to develop novel animal models of brain disorders where the dysfunction of neuronal signaling genes can be studied at high resolution. 

Wright’s research focuses on the investigation of marine natural products with potential use as human therapeutic agents, as biological probes or as lead structures for medicinal chemistry, with a primary emphasis on the discovery of compounds with anticancer properties. Her lab is also involved in collaborative research programs aimed at the discovery of agents useful against neurodegenerative disease and infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. Much of their work has focused on the investigation of deep-water organisms collected using the Johnson-Sea-Link submersibles. The group’s research program has an increasing emphasis in defining the mechanism of action of the compounds using methods such as small molecule immunochemical (affinity) chromatography.

Gregg Fields, Ph.D., principal investigator, professor, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and director of the Center for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, is also a NAI Fellow.

Those elected to the rank of NAI Fellow are named inventors on U.S. patents and were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.

The NAI Fellows will be inducted on April 5, 2018 as part of the seventh annual NAI Conference of the National Academy of Inventors at the Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection in Washington, D.C. Andrew H. Hirshfeld, U.S. commissioner for patents, will provide the keynote address for the induction ceremony.

The 2017 class of NAI Fellows was evaluated by the 2017 Selection Committee, which included 18 members comprising NAI Fellows, U.S. National Medals recipients, National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and senior officials from the USPTO, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Association of American Universities, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Association of University Technology Managers, and National Inventors Hall of Fame, among other organizations.