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Rockford Researcher Named Inventor of the Year

Dr. Ramaswamy Kalyanasundaram

Ramaswamy Kalyanasundaram, DMV, PhD, was named the 2020 Inventor of the Year by the University of Illinois Chicago.

Kalyanasundaram, DMV, PhD, is a professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford. His work on a vaccine to prevent parasitic infections in both humans and dogs earned him this recognition.

The Inventor of the Year Award is presented by the UIC Office of Technology Management to an outstanding UIC inventor who has contributed to the development of intellectual property that significantly impacts their field and society.

Kalyanasundaram’s research focuses on developing a vaccine against lymphatic filariasis, a tropical parasitic infection affecting over 120 million people in more than 40 countries. Only a few drug treatments are available for this mosquito-borne disease, which is also known as elephantiasis because those with the disease often have disabling and disfiguring swelling that can make their limbs resemble those of an elephant.

A recent $3 million National Institutes of Health grant will allow Kalyanasundaram and his research team to assess a new way to stop the spread of lymphatic filariasis with a vaccine that will actually prevent the parasite from being able to live in a person’s body. He has also received multiple Small Business Innovation Research grants with collaborator PAI Life Sciences aimed at developing a reliable and consistent manufacturing process for the vaccine that can be moved toward Phase I clinical trials.

In the course of his research, Kalyanasundaram has shown that the vaccine is also effective against the parasite that causes heartworm disease in dogs, Dirofilaria immitis, which shares 80 percent genome similarity with the human filarial parasite.

Heartworms can live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of dogs and other animals, often causing severe disease and sometimes death. Heartworm preventives that veterinarians prescribe now, such as twice-a-year injections or once-a-month chewable or topical medications, are recommended for a dog’s whole life, which can be expensive, time consuming and unpleasant for both the dog and its owner. Treating an infected dog, however, is even more expensive and complicated. A vaccine that would be effective in preventing heartworm infection would make it easier for pet owners to protect their dogs.

Kalyanasundaram is now working with an industry partner to bring the dog vaccine to the veterinary market.

“Dr. Kalyanasundaram’s work represents the type of translation research our faculty are recognized for,” said TJ Augustine, UIC vice chancellor for innovation. “The research faculty at University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford continue to achieve critical therapeutic breakthroughs. Ramaswamy’s recognition is well-deserved and reinforces UIC’s continued need to support transformational partnerships that encourage commercialization.”