Dr. Shanta Dhar Named National Academy of Inventors Fellow

Shanta Dhar, Ph.D., FRSC, identifies how to overcome barriers to precisely target mitochondria—the part of each cell that generates the energy needed for biochemical reactions.

Dr. Shanta Dhar
Recently named a National Academy of Inventors Fellow, Dr. Dhar says she’s always looked “to make things simple” in her work.

Dr. Dhar, assistant director of Technology and Innovation at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, is a full member of Sylvester’s Translational and Clinical Oncology Program and co-leads the Engineering Cancer Cure Program.

Her inventions and innovative contributions in nanomedicine, mitochondria-targeted drug delivery, and platinum-based prodrugs, which help to guide targeted therapies in cancer and other diseases, have earned her many grants and honors. Her most recent designation as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) is yet another milestone of her trailblazing career. It stands as a testament to her outstanding career achievements.

Dr. Dhar joins Nobel Prize laureates, National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine members, and other accomplished academic inventors in NAI’s 2023 Class of Fellows.

NAI is comprised of more than 4,600 members and offers programs that educate, encourage, inspire and recognize academic inventors. Those chosen as NIA Fellows “have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society,” according to NAI. “NAI Fellow status is nationally recognized as the highest professional distinction awarded to academic inventors.”

Standout Achievements in Targeted Nanomedicine

Dr. Dhar’s Fellow status at NAI reflects her accomplishments in technologies for mitochondrial nanomedicine and the development of prodrugs with modulated mechanisms of action.

“In many diseases, including cancer, metabolic changes, good and bad, happen in the mitochondria. To get to the mitochondria is difficult because of different barriers,” Dr. Dhar said. “The main innovation and focus of my work involve developing programmable systems to effectively reach the mitochondria of a specific cell type.”

Dr. Dhar and her team recently worked on an anti-cancer compound to help overcome prostate cancer tumors’ resistance to standard chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin. Her team also showed that the compound Platin-L could be loaded in targeted nanoparticles, making the compound available orally. The journal ACS Central Science published the research in July 2023.

Sylvester’s Commitment to Innovation and Technology

Dr. Dhar said she joined Sylvester in 2016 with a vision to promote technology development. 

“This induction underscores Sylvester’s commitment to innovation and signifies our readiness to attract venture capitalists that can take our inventions to more advanced stages,” she said.

Growing up in India, Dr. Dhar’s father always reminded her that “necessity is the mother of invention.”

“Our main focus growing up in a small town was to try to invent from what we had,” Dr. Dhar said. “When I started doing research, my idea was always how to make things simple.”

Dr. Dhar began to flourish as an innovator while doing post-doctorate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she focused on nanocarrier-mediated delivery of platinum-based drugs for their potential applications in cancer.

Federal and non-federal funding agencies have awarded Dr. Dhar several grants for translational research. She has received many honors, including a Department of Defense-funded Prostate Cancer Idea Development Award. Dr. Dhar’s work in developing controlled-release vehicles to target the mitochondria of cells was recognized with the Targeting Mitochondria 2012 Scientific Contribution Award from the World Mitochondria Society.

Among other accolades, in 2019 Dr. Dhar was listed as one of the top 5% of authors cited in the Royal Society of Chemistry journals. Dr. Dhar is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. In 2020, she was awarded the University of Miami’s Women in Academic Medicine Trailblazer Award. The following year, Dr. Dhar was inducted into Sigma XI, the scientific research honor society.

Innovations for Multiple Cancer Types

Dr. Dhar’s innovations go beyond prostate cancer to different cancer types and diseases. Examples include the development of prodrugs for mitochondria-targeted metabolic reprogramming of cancer, the development of orally administrable nanoparticles for viral diseases and the development of synthetic nanoparticles to replenish lipids to mitochondrial membranes to tackle mitochondrial genetic disorder-mediated diseases.

“Currently, at Sylvester, we are looking at different aspects of cancer that has spread to the brain and how to delay the recurrence of glioblastoma,” Dr. Dhar said.

The NAI will formally recognize Dr. Dhar and other fellows during the NAI Fellows induction ceremony June 18, 2024, during its annual conference in Raleigh, N.C. 

Tags: Dr. Shanta Dhar, National Academy of Inventors, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center