Celebrating UW Medicine Faculty’s Innovative Contributions to Healthcare

The UW Medicine Inventor of the Year award honors outstanding UW scientists whose inventions have had a major effect on both human health and our local economy. Each year, the Inventor of the Year selection committee solicits nominations from department chairs and administrators which are then reviewed based on the following criteria:​

  • Number of lives saved or improved.
  • Biomedical impact of the invention.
  • Contribution to the bioscience sector.
  • Contributions to the UW CoMotion mission to extend the impact of the University of Washington research through the creation of partnerships that encourage investment in innovation.
  • Contributions to the UW School of Medicine faculty community.

2020 Inventor of the Year: Alex Greninger, M.D., Ph.D., and Keith Jerome, M.D., Ph.D.

Alexander Greninger, M.D., Ph.D., M.S., M.Phil., is assistant director of the UW Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratory and a UW assistant professor of Laboratory Medicine. Dr. Greninger earned his M.D. and Ph.D., from UC San Francisco, his M.S. in Immunology from Stanford, and his M.Phil. in Epidemiology from the University of Cambridge. Dr. Greninger focuses on genomic and proteomic characterization of a variety of human viruses and bacteria, with a particular interest in respiratory viruses and human herpesviruses.

Keith Jerome, M.D., Ph.D., is a board-certified pathologist at SCCA, UW Medicine’s head of Virology, a member of the Vaccine and Infectious Diseases division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and a UW professor of Laboratory Medicine and adjunct professor of Microbiology.  Dr. Jerome earned his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Duke. He is pioneering a potentially curative therapy for previously incurable viral infections, including HIV, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus, and herpesvirus infections.

In December 2019, early reports began reaching public health workers in the U.S. describing a mysterious type of pneumonia that had emerged in China. Within days of these first reports, it became clear that many people were getting sick, that an effective treatment was not in place, and that it was only a matter of time before the disease would find its way to the United States. Dr. Keith Jerome and Dr. Alex Greninger quickly began working together to develop a test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In the early months of the growing pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDC) was the only facility in the U.S. authorized to conduct clinical tests for this emerging virus and was the only source of test kits. Critical flaws in the test kits rendered them useless, escalating the risk to populations and health care workers throughout the country. The three-week delay before the CDC could get working test kits into the hands of public-health labs throughout the country came at a crucial time, particularly in Seattle, which was hit very early by COVID-19. Drs. Greninger and Jerome continued to develop and evaluate their testing design, racing to ensure that a viable, reliable diagnostic test would be available as quickly as possible.

Drs. Greninger and Jerome’s testing design uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR testing) to find and identify tiny bits of the genetic code, called DNA, for the SARS-CoV-2 virus in samples taken from the nose and throat of sick patients. PCR testing quickly multiplies the DNA in the patient’s sample in order to detect if there is any SARS-CoV-2 present in the patient’s sample. If the patient was exposed to the virus and has been infected long enough for the virus to replicate in their body, and when the test is correctly administered to the patient, the PCR method is close to 100% accurate.

After several intense months of work, on March 2, 2020, Drs. Greninger and Jerome were granted federal Emergency Use Authorization to use their test as a diagnostic tool for UW Medicine patients. But this was just the beginning of what was needed. The first clinical tests were on just one hundred specimens, and the lab’s capacity for SARS-CoV-2 testing was very small. As the pandemic grew, testing capacity would need to process thousands of tests each day to achieve a 48-hour turnaround on results. The longer it takes to get results, the more risk there is to patients and those they come in contact with. Drs. Greninger and Jerome worked tirelessly within the Department of Laboratory Medicine to buy the equipment and supplies needed to meet the need. Between the beginning of the pandemic and the arrival of winter in Seattle, they successfully expanded from three PCR machines to more than 30 high volume machines, working quickly with the School of Medicine to locate and equip laboratory space. A new floor is now dedicated entirely to processing COVID-19 samples.

Drs. Greninger and Jerome’s early work made it possible for UW Medicine to meet much of King County and Washington state’s need for rapid-turnaround COVID-19 test analysis and providing testing services to other states as often as capacity allows. With the second wave of the pandemic, more often other states have had to find their own testing solutions. On October 27th, roughly eight months after the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic began the UW Medicine Clinical Virology Lab received its 1 millionth COVID-19 specimen.

2019: Jim Stout, Ph.D.

Dr. Stout recognized the need for improved training and set about to create computer-based instruction to improve spirometry testing and the quality and accuracy of results. Subsequently re-developed as a web-based suite of five separate training programs, the Spirometry 360® resources have been licensed to individual healthcare practices, hospital systems, US states, and also to international healthcare services and brought over $2M in licensing revenue into UW.

2018: Thomas S Lendvay, M.D.

Dr. Lendvay co-invented UW spin-out company Crowd-Sourced Assessment of Technical Skills (C-SATS, Inc.—acquired by Johnson & Johnson). It leverages anonymous crowds of non-medically trained people to assess the technique of surgeons, providing the service to hospitals interested in quality improvement for their providers.  This method for evaluating technique significantly outperforms alternatives.

 

2017: Christy McKinney, Ph.D., MPH & Michael Cunningham, M.D., Ph.D.

The NIFTY Cup development was spearheaded by Dr. McKinney and inspired by the Partners in African Cleft Training (PACT) program directed by Dr. Cunningham. Cleft palate is accompanied by serious feeding challenges in infants that NIFTY Cup has successfully addressed.  Available for purchase at a low price — $1USD per cup through Laerdal Global Health, the NIFTY Cup has the potential to help 15 million infants who are born with breastfeeding difficulties each year worldwide.

Past Award Winners

2016: Samuel Browd, M.D., Ph.D., Jonathan Posner, Ph.D.

2015: David R. Eyre, Ph.D.

2014: David Russell, M.D., Ph.D.

2013: Fred Silverstein, M.D.

2012: Yongmin Kim, Ph.D.

2011: David Baker, Ph.D.

2010: Roy Martin, Ph.D.

2009:  Bonnie Ramsey, M.D., Arnold Smith, M.D., Bruce Montgomery, M.D.

2008: Irwin D. Bernstein, M.D.

2007: Phillip Green II, Ph.D.

2006: David C. Auth, Ph.D.

2005: Earle W. Davie, Ph.D.

2004: Benjamin Hall, Ph.D.