Honoring innovation and impact
Mavis Agbandje-McKenna, Ph.D., was named UF Innovate’s 2018 Innovator of the Year
Oct. 3, 2018 — UF College of Medicine researcher and professor Mavis Agbandje-McKenna, Ph.D., was named the 2018 Innovator of the Year by UF Innovate during its Standing InnOvation event held Sept. 20. The event honored innovators who had disclosed, licensed or optioned a technology in the 2018 fiscal year.
Agbandje-McKenna, who serves as the director for the UF Center for Structural Biology, was chosen for the breadth, depth and impact of her work in AAV, or adeno-associated virus, gene therapy. Her multidisciplinary research examines the events that occur during a viral infection. Though viruses cause many human diseases, they can also serve as vehicles for the delivery of therapeutic genomic material to targeted cells and tissues, serving as a method of treatment for genetic diseases. Agbandje-McKenna said receiving the Innovator of the Year award sustains her drive and passion for her research.
“The most important thing about being a researcher is sharing my love for science with my students and other lab members,” she said. “I love discovery and being able to see my ideas become a reality. For me, doing what you love and being paid for it is a secret that you want to share with everyone.”
Agbandje-McKenna was nominated for this year’s award by April Kilburn, a licensing officer for UF Innovate. UF Innovate’s mission is to support an innovation ecosystem at UF that will move research discoveries from the laboratory to the market. UF Innovate comprises the Tech Licensing and Ventures organizations, as well as two business incubators, the Hub and Sid Martin Biotech.
Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H., interim dean of the UF College of Medicine and professor and chair of emergency medicine, called Agbandje-McKenna’s dedication and tenacity “unparalleled.”
“Mavis is a brilliant researcher and an inspirational human being,” Tyndall said. “She has not only brought cutting-edge discovery through her work at the University of Florida, she has touched the lives of hundreds of students and inspired so many of her colleagues in the process.”
Colleagues and friends were on hand during the Sept. 20 ceremony to offer praise of Agbandje-McKenna’s research acumen and storied career.
Agbandje-McKenna’s husband, Robert McKenna, Ph.D., a professor in the UF College of Medicine department of biochemistry and molecular biology, agreed that his wife inspires others.
“To the virologist she meets, her enthusiasm for science is infectious. To the biochemist she meets, she lowers the activation energy to collaborate. To the epigeneticist she meets, she demethylates genes to activate research,” he said.
Colin Parrish, Ph.D., the John M. Olin professor of virology at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, gave credit to Agbandje-McKenna for her mentorship throughout the decades.
“There is no doubt that I owe my career and any success in science to the help I have had from Mavis over many years,” he said.
James “Bert” Flanegan, Ph.D., chair of the UF department of biochemistry and molecular biology, took note of Agbandje-McKenna’s international status as a researcher in AAV gene therapy.
“Investigators from around the world go to Dr. Agbandje-McKenna for her expertise and innovative ideas,” he said.