DIIA winners 2016


Jim Agutter

Dana Carroll

Toto Olivera

Press Release

The University of Utah announced the winners of the sixth annual Distinguished Innovation and Impact Award in spring 2016. The award recognizes faculty who create products and initiatives with potential to change the world and improve lives.

This year’s winners are: Jim Agutter, assistant professor of design; Dana Carroll, professor of biochemistry; and Baldomero (Toto) Olivera, professor of biology. They were honored at the U’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 5.

The Distinguished Innovation and Impact Award is one of the newest faculty awards at the U. The university created the award to recognize faculty entrepreneurial activities that have resulted in innovations with measurable and significant societal impact. The award is managed by the U’s Academic Affairs office with support from the Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars program, a network of faculty dedicated to maintaining a thriving culture of impact at the university.

“We are proud to present this year’s Distinguished Innovation and Impact Awards to three of the most outstanding, innovative and creative faculty members at the University of Utah,” said Glenn Prestwich, a presidential professor of medicinal chemistry and founding director of the Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars. “The translational achievements by these awardees in design thinking, in gene editing biochemistry and selective tools and drugs in neurobiology have both expanded our knowledge and made the world a better place. Their research, mentoring, and visionary work exemplify the tremendous impacts made by our outstanding faculty members.”

Jim Agutter

Agutter is the former director and the founder of the Multi-Disciplinary Design Program, and assistant professor of design in the College of Architecture + Planning,  and Director of Spark Design Initiative.

His work has focused on using design and design thinking principles to address challenges across a broad range of disciplines. In addition, he has researched the application of 2D and 3D visual design concepts to large scale, real-time data environments.

He is the co-founder of two University of Utah spin-offs – Applied Medical Visualizations and Intellivis – and is an inventor on six patents. He was awarded the 2005 Creative Achievement Award with Julio Bermudez by the Association of College Schools of Architecture, 2009 University of Utah Honors Professorship, 2013 University of Utah Early Career Teaching Award and the 2014 University of Utah Beacon of Excellence Award.

Dana Carroll

Carroll is a distinguished professor in the Department of Biochemistry. He and his colleagues work on gene targeting and gene editing. Among his greatest accomplishments is the development of zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) as genome-editing tools. Based on the Nobel Prize-winning work of Mario Capecchi, it was possible to make targeted changes in the mouse genome, but the procedures were elaborate, inefficient and expensive, and they were not transferrable to other organisms. Carroll recognized that the key limitation was low efficiency that could be enhanced by making a specific double-strand break in the desired target gene.

With his co-workers, Carroll patented the use of ZFNs for making targeted mutations. A private company, Sangamo Biosciences, licensed their technology and has applied it to human therapeutic uses. In their first clinical trial, initiated in 2009 and reported in 2014, they succeeded in protecting patient T cells from continuing HIV infection by eliminating a co-receptor protein required by the virus. The use of ZFNs for genome editing has been picked up by laboratories around the world and proved very effective for defining gene function in many cell types and organisms. Carroll’s early work on gene editing was seminal in the recent emergence of additional gene-editing tools that are now revolutionizing the life sciences. 

The impact of Carroll’s contributions to the fields of genetics and biochemistry has already been recognized by the greater scientific community as he received both the 2012 Edward Novitski Prize from the Genetics Society of America and the 2014 Herbert Sober Lectureship from the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Baldomero (Toto) Olivera

Olivera is a distinguished professor in the Department of Biology. He researches ion channels and receptors, which mediate signaling in the nervous system. He and his colleagues have isolated neurotoxins from the venoms of the predatory cone snails.

His laboratory has characterized a set of unique toxins, the omega-conotoxins, which irreversibly bind (and block) these calcium channels. The venom for a single Conus species contains more than 80 active peptides, which fall into over 15 classes. The long-range goal is to use these toxins for studying key molecules in the central nervous system. The fact that these toxins can be synthesized and radiolabeled will permit characterization of key central-nervous-system molecules that are the targets of these peptides.

Olivera is an inventor on 62 issued patents and 10 additional pending patents. His conotoxin research has had a large impact on several disciplines. For example, several conotoxins have therapeutic application, including ziconotide, which is an FDA approved drug to treat chronic pain. Olivera and his lab also have more than 2,000 publications describing experimental work using conotoxins.

Find more information about the U’s commencement at www.commencement.utah.edu. Learn about the Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars at www.efs.utah.edu.


PHOTOS AVAILABLE: High-resolution images of the winners are available here: http://bit.ly/28VtyN8.

MEDIA CONTACT: Thad Kelling, marketing manager, Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, University of Utah, 801-587-8811, thad.kelling@utah.edu.