Rutgers’ Gennaro named NAI fellow for work on infectious diseases, including TB and COVID

Maria Laura “Marila” Gennaro, a professor of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and a professor of epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health, has been named a National Academy of Inventors fellow, which is the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors.

The NAI Fellows Program highlights 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.

Gennaro, who recently participated in the Innovation Ventures Road to Commercialization webinar “License to an Existing Company or Launch a Startup,” has focused her research on infectious diseases, particularly tuberculosis and COVID-19. She and her team have pursued both fundamental and translational studies on the stress responses of host and pathogen in TB, on new methods and platforms for TB diagnostics and on antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Her TB research contributed to the development of a blood test that distinguishes between TB infection and Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccination against TB, leading to a more definitive and accurate diagnosis faster and more efficiently than previous tests.

More recently, using the knowledge gained through her research into TB, Gennaro and her colleagues at Rutgers’ Public Health Research Institute developed laboratory tests to detect antibodies generated against the viral protein that allows the SARS-CoV-2 virus to enter human cells. These antibody tests have been used in a joint study with the School of Public Health seeking to understand the spread of COVID-19 in a diverse local community and with investigators at the RWJ Medical School to monitor the response to SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination in Rutgers health care workers.

Gennaro said she was grateful for the recognition and thankful for the opportunities she has.

“Our work has always looked for connections between basic and translational research, and I have been lucky to work in institutions that have promoted novelty and innovation,” she said. “I am honored that National Academy of Inventors has recognized the value of this effort and selected me as an NAI fellow.”

Tatiana Litvin-Vechnyak, associate vice president of innovation ventures, part of Rutgers Office for Research, said the school was thrilled for Gennaro and her team.

NAI Fellows at Rutgers

Maria Gennaro joins an impressive list of Rutgers University professors who have been selected as National Academy of Inventors fellows:

  • Maria Gennaro, 2022
  • Yingying Chen, 2021
  • Edmond LaVoie, 2018
  • Joachim Messing, 2018
  • Richard Riman, 2017
  • Richard Frenkiel, 2015
  • Martin Yarmush, 2015
  • Nicholi Vorsa, 2014
  • Joachim Kohn, 2013
  • Richard Mammone, 2013

“For many years, Marila’s team has been working to advance discoveries around infectious disease and, specifically, tuberculosis that have been instrumental to improving diagnosis and treatment of TB,” she said. “More recently, her research on the antibody response to COVID-19, alongside other Rutgers colleagues, continues to help us gain a better understanding of how to combat the disease.”

Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, said Gennaro’s impact has been huge.

“It has been an honor for me to work with Dr. Gennaro, who is an incredible scholar, conducting timely and innovative work,” he said. “Her contributions to the study of infectious diseases, particularly TB and COVID-19, will certainly help address any future pandemics.”

Among other projects, Gennaro’s lab currently serves as the serological core for the pediatric RECOVER cohort, an NIH-funded initiative on long COVID in children.

Over the years, Gennaro’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Union and several intramural and privately sponsored awards.

The 2022 class of fellows will be honored and presented their medals at the 12th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors June 27, 2023, in Washington, D.C.