Jef D. Boeke named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors


BROOKLYN, New York, Monday, December 20, 2021 – Jef D. Boeke — professor of biomedical engineering at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, the Sol and Judith Bergstein Director of the Institute of System Genetics at NYU Langone Health, and professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at NYU Langone Health — has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

Boeke was cited by the NAI for “demonstrat[ing] a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.”

Boeke began his entrepreneurial journey as a graduate student, when he received his first patent for his work on bacteriophages. While at Johns Hopkins University, Boeke founded a startup, CDI Laboratories, with several colleagues, based on use of proteome chips to identify monospecific monoclonal antibodies. A seed capital grant for CDI was obtained from the Puerto Rico Science/ Technology Trust. CDI Labs is now the biggest, most successful native Puerto Rican biotech company and succeeded not only in producing thousands of monospecific monoclonal antibodies but also providing more than 100 jobs to biotech professionals, scientists, and interns on the island.

In 2020, Boeke and his eponymous lab reacted to the pandemic by founding Pandemic Response Lab (PRL), the largest NYC COVID-19 testing lab, in partnership with Opentrons, Inc. Ultra-high throughput clinical testing of swab samples, using very small volumes and a “cradle to grave” sample tracking and data management system called DaViD (Diagnosing Viral Disease) formed the core of a patent filed jointly by NYU and Opentrons. PRL transformed NYC’s ability to provide affordable COVID testing, particularly for poor and underserved communities of NYC via a major contract with the public hospital system, Health and Hospitals Corporation. Since regulators authorized testing on September 15, 2020, PRL has run almost six  million COVID-19 tests, thereby saving countless lives.

At NYU, Boeke conducts foundational work on mechanistic and genomic aspects of retrotransposition — the ability of genes to change position on chromosomes — in both yeast and mammalian systems, and is involved in the development of novel technologies in genetics, genomics and synthetic biology. In his lab, yeast is used as a platform for exploring the construction of fully synthetic chromosomes for practical and theoretical studies.

By inserting synthetic chromosomes into yeast cells, Boeke and his fellow researchers use them as a model for understanding human genetics, and a platform for manufacturing medicines. Boeke has been instrumental in forming an international consortium called Sc2.0 to rewrite and fully synthesize the first eukaryotic organism, the brewer’s yeast.

Additionally, Boeke is studying non-coding DNA in the human genome, or “dark matter,” the function of which remains largely elusive. Non-coding DNA represents 98 percent of our DNA as a whole, and current research reveals that individual variation in the non-coding genome plays key roles in many diseases such as neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, and cancer. 

“Jef D. Boeke’s pioneering work is changing healthcare in dramatic ways,” said Jelena Kovačević, Dean of NYU Tandon. “His response to the COVID-19 crisis is merely one example, and we will, I’m confident, be seeing the benefits of his genetics research for decades to come. I am happy to see him take his place among an impressive group of inventors at the NAI.”

Boeke has received The Genetics Society of America (GSA) Ira Herskowitz Award, was named “Master Scientist” at NYU, served as an elected member of the GSA’s Board of Directors, was 2018 Speaker of the Year for the Netherlands Biochemical Society, and was awarded the Karl Emil Hansen Gold Medal in Microbiology from the Carlsberg Foundation. He holds 29 issued U.S. patents (and numerous foreign patents) that have been licensed to seven companies. He is a founder of Avigen, Inc., CDI Laboratories, Acylin Inc., Neochromosome Inc., and Pandemic Response Lab (PRL), LLC.

Preceding Boeke, among those at NYU Tandon who have been named NAI Fellows are Daniel Sodickson, professor of biomedical engineering at NYU Tandon and professor of radiology and neuroscience and physiology at NYU Langone; Jin Kim Montclare, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering;  Kurt Becker, Vice Dean for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship; H. Jonathan Chao, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Bud Mishra, professor and director of bioinformatics; and Theodore (Ted) S. Rappaport, the David Lee/Ernst Weber Professor of Electrical Engineering and Founding Director of NYU WIRELESS.

Faculty from across NYU who have been elected NAI Fellows include NYU President Andy Hamilton, Jan T. Vilcek, Kenneth Perlin, Leslie Prichep and David Grier.