Shane Farritor, the Lederer Professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.
A Nebraska faculty member since 1998, Farritor holds 48 patents for surgical devices and railroad technologies. He is co-founder and chief technology officer of Virtual Incision Corp., a medical device company that is developing advanced miniaturized robots for general abdominal surgery procedures. This technology is the result of a longtime collaboration between Farritor and Dr. Dmitry Oleynikov, chief of gastrointestinal and minimally invasive surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Earlier this year, Virtual Incision’s surgeon-controlled robots were used in humans for the first time to perform colon resection surgery. Patients were able to leave the hospital far earlier than the eight- to-10-day post-operative stays associated with traditional open surgical techniques. The surgery was performed outside the United States and was a key step toward verifying the technology’s safety and feasibility. Virtual Incision officials believe that this is the first time in the world that a fully functional robot has functioned inside a living human. Farritor said he sees this as a significant milestone in robotics and medicine.
The company moved to Nebraska Innovation Campus in early 2016. NUtech Ventures, the university’s intellectual property and technology commercialization unit, named Virtual Incision the Startup Company of the Year last month. Farritor, along with Oleynikov, also received the 2014 Innovation, Development and Engagement Award, the University of Nebraska system’s highest recognition for faculty members who have expanded their expertise beyond the university.
Farritor’s robotics expertise also has made an impact in a vastly different field. He leads a team of Nebraska engineers that devised a patented sensor system for measuring railroad track integrity and identifying weaknesses that could lead to derailments.
Farritor’s laser-mounted sensor searches for track problems by measuring the shape of the rail while an onboard computer transmits the measurements and associated geographic information back to his laboratory for analysis. The technology’s licensee, MRail Inc., is using it to test railroad tracks across the United States and Canada.
Election to NAI Fellow status is a high professional distinction accorded 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 the welfare of society.
Farritor will be inducted on April 6, 2017, as part of the Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. This year’s class brings the total number of NAI Fellows to 757, representing research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes.
“This honor means a lot to me, but it is particularly special because I was nominated by Prem,” Farritor said, referring to the late Prem S. Paul, Nebraska’s former vice chancellor for research and economic development who was named a fellow of the academy in 2012. “Prem was a great mentor to me. I owe him a lot and knowing that he nominated me is as important as becoming a fellow of the academy.”