Montana State University

MSU vice president honored by National Academy of Inventors

December 16, 2014 -- MSU News Service

Renee Reijo Pera, an internationally recognized scientist who is regarded as one of the world's authorities on stem cells, will be inducted March 20 as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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Montana State University’s vice president for research and economic development has been named a fellow of the only organization that honors university inventors.

Renee Reijo Pera, an internationally recognized scientist who is regarded as one of the world’s authorities on stem cells, will be inducted March 20 as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Reijo Pera will be installed during a ceremony at the 4th annual conference of the academy, to be held at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Reijo Pera is MSU’s second NAI fellow; Regents Professor Anne Camper was inducted as a fellow in March.

“I am delighted with this recognition,” Reijo Pera said. “Invention is a product of research, and being recognized at MSU is an honor.”

MSU President Waded Cruzado nominated Reijo Pera for the recognition. Letters of support came from Irving Weissman, director of the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and director of the Stanford Ludwig Center for Cancer Stem Cell Research and Medicine at Stanford University, and Alice Chen, director of biomedical research at Auxogyn, Inc, a venture-backed company focused on translating scientific discoveries to clinical solutions.

According to the academy, NAI fellows are selected for their 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. NAI fellows have demonstrated a highly 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. They also have made broad and significant contributions to their university.

With a research focus on stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, Reijo Pera has developed technologies to address infertility of men and women, neurodegenerative diseases and women’s health issues. She has created four companies to commercialize her technologies. 

In 2006, Newsweek magazine named Reijo Pera one of the 20 most influential women in America. In 2010, Time magazine recognized work in her lab as of the top 10 biomedical breakthroughs. The recognition was for technology that provides the ability to accurately predict which in vitro fertilized embryos will develop successfully after transfer. The technology has received federal approval, and a company Reijo Pera co-founded, Auxogyn, has commercialized it. 

Reijo Pera has also received international attention for showing that skin cells from infertile men can be used to create the precursors of sperm – research that holds promise for treating male infertility.

In her nomination letter, Cruzado wrote that Reijo Pera’s work is positively affecting MSU and its students, as well as people around the globe.

“Dr. Reijo Pera is impacting the health and family lives of our citizens,” Cruzado wrote. “She is leading MSU to increasing success as our vice president for research and economic development. She is mentoring students and challenging them to take science to new heights. She is developing technologies that will not only change the way infertility and neurodegeneration is diagnosed, but also the way it is treated. And along the way, she is creating new companies that will economically benefit our region and state.”

In a supporting letter, Weissman said Reijo Pera’s work “stands alongside that of the great biologists and philosophers who have pondered our beginnings and sought to address fundamental questions of origins.”

Chen called Reijo Pera’s work “groundbreaking,” and said it has spawned a new wave of innovation. She added that Reijo Pera’s educational philosophy strongly encourages innovation in students.

Reijo Pera came to MSU in January from Stanford University, where she was director of its Center for Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research and Education and the Center for Reproductive and Stem Cell Biology, as well as the doctoral program in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

At MSU, in addition to continuing her research, she serves as vice president in charge of the university’s research and economic development efforts, as well as professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Reijo Pera and the other new fellows bring the total number of NAI fellows to 414, representing more than 150 prestigious research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutions.

Included among all of the NAI fellows are 61 presidents and senior leaders of research universities and non-profit research institutes, 208 members of the other national academies such as the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering, 21 inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, 16 recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation, 10 recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Science, and 21 Nobel Laureates, among other awards and distinctions.  

Contact: Tracy Ellig, (406) 994-5607 or tellig@montana.edu

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