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Dr. Anthony Atala, Regenerative Medicine Pioneer, Receives 2022 ACS Jacobson Innovation Award

July 1, 2022

Left: ACS President Julie Freischlag, MD, FACS (left), presents Dr. Atala with the Jacobson Innovation Award medallion. Right: Dr. Atala with his wife Katherine Atala, MD, and son Zachary
Left: ACS President Julie Freischlag, MD, FACS (left), presents Dr. Atala with the Jacobson Innovation Award medallion. Right: Dr. Atala with his wife Katherine Atala, MD, and son Zachary

Anthony Atala, MD, FACS, of Winston-Salem, NC, was presented with the 2022 Jacobson Innovation Award of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) at a dinner held in his honor June 10 in Chicago, IL. He is the George Link Jr. Professor and Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) and the W. H. Boyce Professor and Chair of Urology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, both in Winston-Salem.

The international surgical award from the ACS honors living surgeons who are innovators of a new development or technique in any field of surgery. It is made possible through a gift from Julius H. Jacobson II, MD, FACS, and his wife Joan. Dr. Jacobson is a general vascular surgeon known for his pioneering work in the development of microsurgery.

“I am truly humbled and honored to receive this award,” Dr. Atala said. “The things that were accomplished [for myself] with this research are not really important. What is important is what we do for our patients, and—more important—what we do for each other.”

A Career of Innovation

Dr. Atala is a pediatric urologist, researcher, professor, and mentor who is renowned for developing foundational principles for regenerative medicine research, which holds great promise for people who require tissue substitution and reconstruction. Dr. Atala and his team successfully implanted the world’s first laboratory-grown bladder in 1999.

His remarkable work has expanded, and today, WFIRM is a leader in translating scientific discovery into regenerative medicine clinical therapies. He currently leads an interdisciplinary team of more than 450 researchers and physicians. Beyond many other world firsts, WFIRM also has developed 15 clinically used technology-based applications, including muscle, urethra, cartilage, reproductive tissues, and skin. The Institute is working on more than 40 tissues and organs.

Through Dr. Atala’s vision, ingenuity, and leadership, the WFIRM team has developed specialized 3-D printers to engineer tissues. This work is accomplished by using cells to create various tissues and organs, including miniature organs called organoids, to create body-on-a-chip systems. Dr. Atala and his team also discovered a stem cell population derived from both the amniotic fluid and the placenta, which are being used for clinically relevant research applications.

Dr. Atala’s theory is that every cell within the human body should be capable of regeneration. What reproduces naturally inside the body should also have the same capabilities of reproduction outside of the body. According to Dr. Atala, “The key benefit to the approach of cell and tissue regeneration is that a patient will not reject their own cells or tissue, which is always a concern related to traditional organ match transplantation.”

 

Dr. Atala (second from left) with, from left (all MD, FACS): ACS First Vice-President Quan-Yang Duh, ACS Executive Director Patricia L. Turner, ACS Board of Regents Chair Anton N. Sidawy, and ACS Regent Fabrizio Michelassi.
Dr. Atala (second from left) with, from left (all MD, FACS): ACS First Vice-President Quan-Yang Duh, ACS Executive Director Patricia L. Turner, ACS Board of Regents Chair Anton N. Sidawy, and ACS Regent Fabrizio Michelassi.

Honors and Awards

Dr. Atala’s innovative work has been recognized as one of Time magazine’s Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs in 2007, Smithsonian’s 2010 Top Science Story of the Year, and US News & World Report’s honor as one of 14 top Pioneers of Medical Progress in the 21st Century. He has been named by Scientific American as one of the world’s most influential people in biotechnology, by Life Sciences Intellectual Property Review as one of 50 Key Influencers in the Life Sciences Intellectual Property arena, and by Nature Biotechnology as one of the Top 10 Translational Researchers in the World.

Dr. Atala was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences (now the National Academy of Medicine) in 2011, and inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. In 2014, he was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors as a Charter Fellow and has been a strong and thoughtful contributor to the ACS Scientific Forum and Research Committee. He presented the prestigious Martin Memorial Named Lecture at the ACS Clinical Congress in 2010, titled Regenerative Medicine: New Approaches to Health Care.

Other honors include being the recipient of the US Congress-funded Christopher Columbus Foundation Award, which is bestowed on a living American who is working on a discovery that will significantly affect society; the World Technology Award in Health and Medicine for achieving significant and lasting progress; the Edison Science/Medical Award; and the Smithsonian Ingenuity Award.

A National Leader in Regenerative Medicine

Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Atala has led or served on several national professional and government committees, including the National Institutes of Health Working Group on Cells and Developmental Biology, the National Institutes of Health Bioengineering Consortium, and the National Cancer Institute’s Advisory Board. He is a founder of the Tissue Engineering Society, the Regenerative Medicine Society, the Regenerative Medicine Foundation, the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, the Regenerative Medicine Development Organization, the Regenerative Medicine Manufacturing Society, and the Regenerative Medicine Manufacturing Consortium.

A Prolific Author and Inventor

Dr. Atala is the editor-in-chief of Stem Cells-Translational Medicine and BioPrinting. He is an author or coauthor of more than 800 journal articles and has applied for or received more than 250 national and international patents.

To view more photos from the dinner reception, visit https://surgeons.photoshelter.com/galleries/C0000dluF6sdPalQ/G0000jDMS97_ksd0/News-Brief.

To watch the award presentation, go to https://youtu.be/9kG-ohAvd1o.