Knight Campus leader named to national inventors academy

Robert Guldberg

Robert Guldberg embodies the mission of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, to advance society with science.

Now, the internationally renowned researcher and entrepreneur in regenerative medicine has been named a 2019 fellow to the National Academy of Inventors. He is one of 168 renowned academic inventors recognized worldwide this year for demonstrating a tangible impact in innovation and the community. 

Guldberg, who serves as vice president and Robert and Leona DeArmond Executive Director of the Knight Campus, is the second UO faculty member to be honored by the academy as a fellow.

“I am honored to be included in the academy,” Guldberg said. “It is critically important that we blend scientific discovery with entrepreneurial spirit. That’s what I’ve tried to do throughout my career, and precisely what we’re striving to do at the University of Oregon and the Knight Campus.”

Guldberg came to the UO in 2018 to lead the UO’s Knight Campus, a billion-dollar vision to dramatically shorten the timeline between discovery and societal impact through world-class research, training and entrepreneurship in a nimble scientific enterprise. Before that, Guldberg served as executive director of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering at Georgia Tech.

Over his career, he has co-founded five companies. His first came when he was still in graduate school and was based on software to generate models derived from CT scans. The technology is still in use today.

Guldberg is known for designing novel systems and devices to assist and promote regenerative growth, providing potential therapies for traumatic injuries and degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. 

His work became personal several years ago when his daughter, then a 14-year-old emerging-competitive tennis player, complained of back pain. She was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis — a condition similar to scoliosis in which one vertebra slides over another, usually in the lower back. She underwent spinal fusion surgery to repair the condition. Nine months later, the fusion failed and a second surgery followed.

Guldberg, along with collaborator Ken Gall of Duke University and a member of the Knight Campus External Advisry Board, designed a novel spine-fusion cage. The cage’s scaffolding had a porosity to the surface that encouraged much faster bone growth, creating fusion. The cage was acquired by a major medical device company in 2017 and is now helping thousands of patients.

Guldberg holds eight patents, five of which are licensed to companies.

The UO’s Innovation Partnership Services office, which works with UO innovators, the public and industry to accelerate the adoption of innovations derived from UO research and education, nominated Guldberg for the honor. Chuck Williams, associate vice president for research and innovation, pointed to Guldberg’s immediate impact on the local innovation ecosystem.

“Dr. Guldberg has been a dynamic presence since the moment he arrived at the UO,” Williams said.  “A seasoned translator of research technology to commercial application for the public good, he is inspiring catalyzing discussions, developing exciting innovations and creating real institutional and cultural change. We congratulate him on this well-deserved award, which is the highest honor an academic inventor can receive.”

The National Academy of Inventors is a member organization of universities and research institutes founded to support entrepreneurship and drive industry and research forward. The academy’s fellowship 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.”

Last year, psychology professor Don Tucker, inventor of the geodesic sensor net — a device that vastly simplified and improved the way researchers and clinicians see and measure brain activity — became the first UO professor to be honored by the academy as a fellow.

Three UO faculty members have been named as senior members in the academy, a key stepping stone to one day becoming a fellow. Chemistry professors Darren Johnson and Michael Haley and emeritus chemistry professor Jim Remington have all been inducted as senior members.