Indian American chemist Sumita Mitra named European Inventor Award 2021 finalist

Sumita Mitra
Sumita Mitra; photo credit: epo.org

Mitra’s invention used in over one billion tooth restorations worldwide.

Indian American chemist Sumita Mitra has been named a finalist by the European Patent Office (EPO) in the “Non-EPO countries” category of the European Inventor Award 2021.

Mitra was the first to apply nanotechnology to the production of dental materials, leading to the creation of a new composite to repair teeth which has many advantages over conventional materials, according to a press release.

Mitra’s material overcomes many of the limitations of previous dental composites, which were either too weak to be used on biting surfaces, or quickly lost their polish and became physically unattractive.

In addition, her invention is more versatile than other composites, meaning it can be used in any area of the mouth, and simplifies the filling procedure for dentists.

Commercialized as Filtek™ Supreme Universal Restorative since 2002 by 3M, the US  for whom Mitra worked for more than 30 years, the technology and the products developed from it are today used by dentists around the globe, the release said.

“Mitra’s invention takes what was an emerging technology at the time – nanotechnology – and applies it to a new sector to provide a solution for dentists and relief for patients,” says EPO president António Campinos, announcing the European Inventor Award 2021 finalists.

READ: Stanford’s Prof. Arogyaswami Paulraj in reckoning for European Inventor Award 2016 (May 3, 2016)

“Patents have protected Mitra’s material and helped ensure that her invention remains commercially successful nearly 20 years after its launch.”

The winners of the 2021 edition of the EPO’s annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony on 17 June which has this year been reimagined as a digital event for a global audience.

It was while working in the oral care division of US multinational 3M that Sumita Mitra became aware of the limitations of existing composite materials.

Mitra’s idea was to replace composite fillers with nanoparticles. “The use of nanotechnology gave me the opportunity of making a new material,” she says. “It restores peoples smiles and improves the quality of their lives”.

The material’s strength is its versatility according to her: “You have all the desired properties of a tooth filling in one material. That is why this technology has been used to make so many different types of tooth restorations around the world.”

Mitra is a partner at Mitra Chemical Consulting, LLC, a company she set up with her husband after leaving 3M in 2010, and which advises companies on new technology development, product design, commercialisation, mergers and acquisitions.

She was named an American Chemical Society Hero of Chemistry in 2009, inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2018 and elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2021 for her work related to inventions in nanotechnology for use in dental materials.

Other awards include a Hollenback Memorial Prize from the Academy of Operative Dentistry (2020); a Peyton-Skinner Award for Innovation in Dental Materials from the International Association of Dental Research (2012); and a Top 25 Women in Dentistry Award (2010).

Mitra was elected to the 3M Carlton Society 1998 – the highest 3M award given for lifelong contribution to R&D.

Mitra is named on 58 European patents, four of which are related to her nomination for the European Inventor Award 2021.

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