December 13, 2017

National Academy of Inventors and University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center announce 2017 NAI Fellows

By msequeira

Dr. Cheryl L. Willman of the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), the organization announced Tuesday.

Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional accolade bestowed solely to academic inventors who 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 welfare of society.

With the election of the 2017 class there are now 912 NAI Fellows, representing over 250 research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes. The 2017 Fellows are named inventors on nearly 6,000 issued U.S. patents, bringing the collective patents held by all NAI Fellows to more than 32,000 issued U.S. patents.

Included among all NAI Fellows are more than 100 presidents and senior leaders of research universities and non-profit research institutes; 439 members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; 36 inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame; 52 recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation and U.S. National Medal of Science; 29 Nobel Laureates; 261 AAAS Fellows; 168 IEEE Fellows; and 142 Fellows of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, among other awards and distinctions.

On 5 Apr. 2018, the 2017 NAI Fellows will be inducted as part of the Seventh Annual NAI Conference of the National Academy of Inventors at the Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection in Washington, D.C. Andrew H. Hirshfeld, U.S. Commissioner for Patents, will provide the keynote address for the induction ceremony.

The 2017 NAI Fellows will be highlighted with a full page announcement in The Chronicle of Higher Education 19 Jan. 2018 issue, and in an upcoming issue of Science and Technology and Innovation, Journal of the National Academy of Inventors.

Cheryl Willman, MD

Cheryl L. Willman, MD, has served as Director and CEO of the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center (UNMCCC) since November 1999. She is a UNM Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Internal Medicine at the School of Medicine where she holds the Maurice and Marguerite Liberman Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research. Dr. Willman received her M.D. in 1981 from the Mayo School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. Awarded one of the first Physician Scientist Awards in 1984 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Willman completed her residency and post-doctoral training in pathology and cancer research at the NIH in Bethesda, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Washington in Seattle.

Dr. Willman is an internationally recognized physician-scientist and a national leader in cancer precision medicine, whose research focuses on the use of genomic and next generation sequencing technologies to identify novel targets for improved diagnosis and therapy in leukemia and the translation of these targets to develop new and more effective treatments. She has been a co-leader of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) TARGET Project ( In collaboration with these colleagues, she discovered novel leukemia-causing mutations seen frequently in children and adults of Hispanic ethnicity and American Indian genetic ancestry, and, in other poor risk leukemias. These discoveries have been translated to several national clinical trials for pediatric and adult leukemia sponsored by the NCI, where the UNMCCC serves as a reference laboratory for genomic diagnostics. Dr. Willman has been continuously funded by the NIH, NCI, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for over 30 years and she is a highly cited physician-scientist (H-index: 83; >32,000 citations) who has published over 240 papers reporting her work in the highest quality medical and scientific journals (New Engl J Med; Cancer Cell; Nature Medicine; Nature Genetics; Blood); she also holds 11 patents or patents pending. Dr. Willman also leades consortia of scientists from UNMCCC and Los Alamos National Laboratory focused on the use of cancer genome sequencing to target cancer patients to more effective treatments and to uncover cancer-causing mutations in our environment, and, consortia with Sandia National Laboratory focused on the develop of cancer nanotechnologies and nanotherapeutics.

Over the past 15 years, Dr. Willman has led the development of the clinical cancer treatment, research, education, and community outreach programs of the UNMCCC, culminating in its most recent designation as one of the nation’s 49 NCI Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers – the leading (top 3%) of the cancer centers of the United States. The 135 oncology physicians, 130 scientists, and more than 600 staff at the UNMCCC are dedicated to providing state of the art, comprehensive, fully integrated cancer treatment for all New Mexicans, conducting world class research, training the next generation of cancer healthcare professionals, and delivering community outreach programs throughout New Mexico’s urban, rural, and tribal communities to overcome the state’s significant cancer health disparities. The UNMCCC provides care for more than 12,000 patients annually and has received the highest accreditations and commendations from all national certifying agencies (NCI, TCJ, ASCO Quality Oncology Practice Initiative, ACR, and the ACOS Commission on Cancer).

Throughout her career, Dr. Willman has received numerous awards from the NCI, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and The W.M. Keck Foundation. She received The Stowell-Orbison Award, The Benjamin Castleman Award, and The Young Investigator Award from the International Academy of Pathology. She was founder and President of the Association of Molecular Pathology and is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Women in Science Hall of Fame. Dr. Willman serves on several NCI Advisory Boards (including the NCI Board of Scientific Advisors, the NCI-Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, and the Scientific Advisory Board for the NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities), and, on the Scientific Boards of 9 other NCI Designated Cancer Centers. She has received several distinguished public service awards, including the 16th Governor’s Award for Outstanding New Mexico Women (2001), The New Mexico Distinguished Public Service Award (2005), the New Mexico La Estrella Award (2013), and the New Mexico Humanitarian Award (2014).

Those elected to the rank of NAI Fellow are named inventors on U.S. patents and were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.

The 2017 class of NAI Fellows was evaluated by the 2017 Selection Committee, which included 18 members comprising NAI Fellows, U.S. National Medals recipients, National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and senior officials from the USPTO, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Association of American Universities, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Association of University Technology Managers, and National Inventors Hall of Fame, among other organizations.

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About the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in a 500-mile radius. Its 125 board-certified oncology specialty physicians include cancer surgeons in every specialty (abdominal, thoracic, bone and soft tissue, neurosurgery, genitourinary, gynecology, and head and neck cancers), adult and pediatric hematologists/medical oncologists, gynecologic oncologists, and radiation oncologists. They, along with more than 500 other cancer healthcare professionals (nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, navigators, psychologists and social workers), provided cancer care for nearly 60 percent of the adults and children in New Mexico affected by cancer. They treated 11,249 patients in 84,875 ambulatory clinic visits in addition to in-patient hospitalizations at UNM Hospital. These patients came from every county in the State. More than 12 percent of these patients participated in cancer clinical trials testing new cancer treatments and 35 percent of patients participated in other clinical research studies, including tests of novel cancer prevention strategies and cancer genome sequencing. The 130 cancer research scientists affiliated with the UNMCCC were awarded almost $60 million in federal and private grants and contracts for cancer research projects and published 301 high quality publications. Promoting economic development, they filed more than 30 new patents in FY16, and since 2010, have launched 11 new biotechnology start-up companies. Scientists associated with the UNMCCC Cancer Control & Disparities have conducted more than 60 statewide community-based cancer education, prevention, screening, and behavioral intervention studies involving more than 10,000 New Mexicans. Finally, the physicians, scientists and staff have provided education and training experiences to more than 230 high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellowship students in cancer research and cancer health care delivery. Learn more at

UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center Contact Information

Dorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, 505-340-5929,
Michele Sequeira, UNM Cancer Center, 505-925-0486,
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The National Academy of Inventors is a 501(c)(3) non-profit member organization comprising U.S. and international universities, and governmental and non-profit research institutes, with over 4,000 individual inventor members and Fellows spanning more than 250 institutions worldwide. It was founded in 2010 to recognize and encourage inventors with patents issued from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, enhance the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encourage the disclosure of intellectual property, educate and mentor innovative students, and translate the inventions of its members to benefit society.

Tags: awards & honors, UNM CC Press Releases