European Patent Office (EPO) honors Mitra for restoring smiles with nanomaterials.
Indian-American chemist Sumita Mitra has won the European Inventor Award 2021, one of Europe’s most prestigious innovation prizes for her application of nanotechnology in dentistry.
Mitra, who won the award in the “Non-European Patent Office (EPO) countries” discovered that incorporating nanoparticles into dental materials can produce fillings that are stronger, more durable and more aesthetic.
Her innovation has since been successfully commercialised and used in more than one billion tooth restorations, helping to restore smiles around the globe
“Sumita Mitra took an entirely new path in her field, and demonstrated how technological innovation, protected by patents, can transform a sector, and in this case bring benefits to millions of dental patients,” said EPO president Antonio Campinos at the award ceremony Thursday.
“Her invention remains commercially successful nearly 20 years after its launch — another reason why she is an inspiration to the next generation of scientists,” he added.
The 2021 European Inventor Award ceremony was held digitally and, for the first time, was open to the public who tuned in to the event from around the world.
One of Europe’s most prestigious innovation prizes, the award is presented annually by the EPO to distinguish outstanding inventors from Europe and beyond who have made an exceptional contribution to society, technological progress and economic growth.
The finalists and winners in five categories (Industry, Research, SMEs, Non-EPO countries and Lifetime achievement) were selected by an independent international jury.
Until the late 1990s, dentists struggled to find an optimal material to secure fillings in place to repair decayed or broken teeth, an EPO press release noted.
Commonly used options (composite microfills and hybrid composites) were either too weak for biting surfaces or became dull and unattractive over time.
While working in the Oral Care Division of the American multinational 3M, Sumita Mitra became determined to find an alternative. The root of the problem lay in particle size: hybrid composites were milled from quartz, glass or ceramics.
Through daily use, the resin would wear away and the particles begin to protrude. The microfills comprised loosely packed particles that resulted in a weak filler.
Initially, Mitra and her team incorporated uniform nanoparticles approximately 20 nanometres in size into resins. While these had better mechanical and optical properties, they remained unsuitable in dentistry.
They then tried a new approach and developed a technique for creating loosely bound clusters of nanoparticles of varied sizes.
They combined these nanoclusters with precisely engineered individual nanoparticles of varying diameters, resulting in a robust, durable and lustrous material with excellent handling properties.
By adding tiny amounts of pigment and altering the nanoparticles’ chemical composition, the team also created a range of shades to match individual patients’ teeth.
Mitra’s ground-breaking filler FiltekTM Supreme universal restorative was commercialized by 3M and launched in 2002. The product line continues to build on her patented material, with newer generations of Filtek introduced in 2005, 2012 and 2019.
The technology and the products developed from Mitra’s work are today used by dentists worldwide, benefitting countless patients.
Having retired from 3M in 2010 after 32 years of service Mitra continues to contribute to research and development through her own consulting company. She also volunteers in her community and hopes to inspire young people to develop an interest in science.
Mitra is currently 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, commercialization, 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.