C. Jeffrey Brinker, Distinguished and Regents’ Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in the UNM School of Engineering, and Cheryl Willman, professor in the Department of Pathology at the UNM School of Medicine, and director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center Cheryl Willman, are the 2015 Innovation Fellows.

“Dr. Brinker is an outstanding scientist and inventor who is internationally known for his innovative technologies in advanced materials and who has pioneered the field of sol-gel processing. His nanoparticle technologies, engineering marvels, have a broad range of applications, but none more compelling than in the field of medicine," STC.UNM CEO Lisa Kuuttila said.

“His protocell technology, a specifically designed nanoparticle that carries cancer drugs to targeted cancer cells, represents the next generation of cancer treatment. As a distinguished professor and a fellow at Sandia National Labs, Dr. Brinker is the kind of inventor who achieves at the very highest levels of research and creativity. The STC Board of Directors is honored to recognize him as a 2015 Innovation Fellow,” she added.

Dean of the UNM School of Engineering Joseph Cecchi notes, “Dr. Brinker's research and commercialization activities are shining examples of what the School of Engineering strives for—to engage in cutting-edge research that leads to high-impact commercialization. Jeff's work increases the visibility of the School in research and commercialization.

"In addition, and of equal importance, Jeff is a remarkable role model for other School faculty. He is an outstanding role model to students as well, as an example of how to carry out academic research and drive it to high-impact commercialization.”

Brinker will receive an award for an issued patent this year as well as the Innovation Fellow Award.

He grew up in Easton, Pa., and attended Rutgers University where he received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in ceramic science. He joined Sandia National Laboratories as a member of the technical staff in 1979 and was appointed distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia and national laboratory professor of chemical engineering and chemistry at the University of New Mexico in 1991.

Since 1999, he has been jointly employed at Sandia, where he is one of four Sandia fellows and distinguished affiliate scientist at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT) and at UNM, where he is distinguished and regents’ professor in the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, and member of the UNM Cancer Center.

Cheryl Willman
Cheryl Willman

Cheryl Willman will receive an Innovation Award for an issued patent this year as well as the award for Innovation Fellow.

“Dr. Willman is a remarkable cancer physician and inventor who is doing cutting-edge research to find new ways to treat cancer. She is an international expert in leukemia research, particularly acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children, and an innovator in discovering the underlying gene mutations in these cancer cells,” said Kuuttila. “Dr. Willman’s use of next generation genomic sequencing to find targeting therapies coupled with her collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Brinker in developing the protocell, a nanoparticle designed to deliver cancer drugs to targeted cancer cells, will vastly improve cancer treatment for patients everywhere.

"Her individual achievements are not the only thing remarkable about her. Dr. Willman is also head of the UNM Cancer Center where her outstanding faculty are doing innovative research. The STC Board of Directors is honored to recognize her as a 2015 Innovation Fellow.”

“Cheryl Willman is a visionary leader, care provider and innovator who, throughout her illustrious career, has made immeasurable contributions to the health and well-being of all New Mexicans," said UNM Health Sciences Chancellor and School of Medicine Dean Paul Roth.

Willman was appointed director and CEO of the University of New Mexico Cancer Center in November 1999. Under her stewardship, the Cancer Center was first awarded a five-year National Cancer Institute P20 Cancer Center Planning Grant in 2000.

Five years later, the Center succeeded on its first attempt at NCI Designation and was awarded a NCI P30 CCSG grant. The Center underwent a highly successful competitive renewal in 2010 and is undergoing another renewal this year. Additionally, the Cancer Center has been ranked as one of “America’s Best Cancer Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

As a clinical enterprise, the Cancer Center has been a stunning success: it serves 60 percent of the adult and virtually all of the pediatric oncology patients in New Mexico. Willman and her leadership team have recruited widely to build the Cancer Center’s interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research programs. Today, these include 125 faculty members from UNM and consortium institutions, supported by nearly $70 million in annual cancer research funding.  

Willman is also a professor of pathology and internal medicine in the Department of Pathology where she holds the Maurice and Marguerite Liberman Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research.

She completed high school in Bettendorf, Iowa; received her B.A. in chemistry from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.; and her M.D. in 1981 from The Mayo School of Medicine in Rochester, Minn. Awarded one of the first NIH Physician Scientist Awards in 1984, Dr. Willman completed her residency and postdoctoral training in diagnostic pathology (with a specialty in blood cancers) and cancer research at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., UNM, and the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash.

STC.UNM is also recognizing the 55 UNM faculty members, staff and students who have received issued patents within the past year, a period of time from March 1, 2014 to March 31 2015. For a complete list of 2015 patent recipients, click here.