Rafael Davalos, the L. Preston Wade Professor in biomedical engineering and mechanics in the College of Engineering, has been named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

Davalos joins an elite group of NAI fellows at the university that includes Virginia Tech President Tim Sands and X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology. 

“Dr. Davalos has been a prolific academic inventor since he arrived at the university in 2006. His pioneering approach to cancer treatment and detection is making a difference for patients and their families,” said Sands. “His transdisciplinary approach stretches across translational medicine and engineering, exemplifying Virginia Tech’s aspiration to lead in research that traverses traditional boundaries.”

Davalos, director of the Center for Engineered Health, has made significant contributions to the fields of cancer detection and treatment using advanced electroporation, biotransport, and dielectrophoresis.

His groundbreaking article “Tissue Ablation with Irreversible Electroporation,” published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering in 2005, has been cited more than 1,300 times, making it the second most cited paper in the journal’s 50-year history.

Irreversible electroporation is a focal ablation technique that precisely treats cancers near critical structures in the body. The minimally invasive technology delivers low-energy electric pulses to destabilize the membranes of targeted cells, leading to their destruction. In 2018, Davalos’ innovative method received the Expedited Pathway Designation through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has since benefitted thousands of cancer patients around the world.

"As an engineer, being inducted into the National Academy of Inventors is one of the biggest honors one can have. It is recognition that your work is impacting lives,” said Davalos. “I am extremely thankful to those that nominated me and the NAI for this recognition.”

Working in his Bioelectromechanical Systems Laboratory, Davalos has generated an array of cutting-edge technology with tangible results. He currently holds 43 patents and has launched four startup companies.

“Rafael embodies the spirit of innovation with his extraordinary research in cancer treatments and detection, pioneering approach, ability to address challenging scientific problems with practical applications, and unique student mentorship activities,” Grant Brewer, executive director of LICENSE, the Center for Technology Commercialization at Virginia Tech. “With over 40 issued patents and several startups, I am excited to see Rafael’s contributions to improving the quality of thousands of lives recognized on the world stage. We hope the impact of his research can inspire other Virginia Tech researchers to work with our team to disclose technologies and file patents.”  

Davalos has helped propel bioengineering research through his profound scholarly output, evident in his h-index of 65. His 140 journal articles have been collectively cited more than 15,400 times, and his additional works include book chapters, review articles, abstracts, and conference proceedings.

Davalos has received numerous awards and honors during his distinguished career. In 2021, he received the Van C. Mow Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) for his outstanding contributions to the field of bioengineering through research, education, mentorship, and service. Davalos previously received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, a Wallace H. Coulter Foundation Early Career Award, and the Nation’s Most Promising Engineer Award from the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation. His fellowships include representation in ASME and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

This year's cohort of NAI fellows also includes Roe-Hoan Yoon, a University Distinguished Professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering and director of the Center of Advanced Separation Technologies. Yoon and Davalos will be honored by NAI at the academy’s Fellows Induction Ceremony on June 27 in Washington, D.C.

The NAI Fellows Program spotlights academic inventors who have made a tangible impact on society through their prolific spirit of innovation. The program’s 1,567 fellows represent more than 400 universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes. Collectively, they hold more than 53,000 issued U.S. patents, and their discoveries have generated over $3 trillion in revenue.

Davalos earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of California-Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Cornell University.

At Virginia Tech, researchers can partner with the university’s LICENSE and LAUNCH offices to create paths to market for research and technologies with the potential for significant societal and economic impact.

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