- One of Europe’s most prestigious innovation prizes, the award is presented annually by the European Patent Office to inventors from Europe and beyond.
Indian-American chemist Sumita Mitra has won the European Inventor Award 2021 in the “Non-EPO countries” category for developing a nanomaterial-based dental filler. Mitra was honored at the award ceremony, held virtually on June 17 in Munich, Germany.
The award, one of Europe’s most prestigious innovation prizes, is presented annually by the EPO to distinguish outstanding inventors from Europe and beyond who have made an exceptional contribution to society, technological progress and economic growths, as per IPWatchdog, an intellectual property publication, focusing on patents, innovation policy, trade secrets, copyrights and trademark.
The finalists and winners in five categories (Industry, Research, SMEs, Non-EPO countries and Lifetime achievement) were selected by an independent international jury.
Mitra developed a nanomaterial-based dental filler that offers improved strength, wear resistance and aesthetics, the European Patent Office said in a press release. She was the first to use nanotechnology to create fillings and today, dental products based on her invention have been used in over 1 billion restorations worldwide.
Until the late 1990s, dentists struggled to find an optimal material to secure fillings in place to repair decayed or broken teeth. Commonly used options (composite microfilled and hybrid composites) were either too weak for biting surfaces or became dull and unattractive over time.
While working in the Oral Care Division of 3M, Sumita Mitra became determined to find an alternative to the composite microfilled and hybrid composites to secure fillings in place to repair decayed or broken teeth.
Initially, Mitra and her team incorporated uniform nanoparticles approximately 20 nanometres in size into resins. While these had better mechanical and optical properties, they remained unsuitable in dentistry. They then tried a new approach and developed a technique for creating loosely bound clusters of nanoparticles of varied sizes.
Mitra’s ground-breaking filler FiltekTM Supreme universal restorative was commercialized by 3M and launched in 2002. The product line continues to build on her patented material, with newer generations of Filtek introduced in 2005, 2012 and 2019. The technology and the products developed from Mitra’s work are today used by dentists worldwide, benefitting countless patients.
Mitra holds 98 U.S. patents and their international equivalents. She is named on 58 European patents, four of which are related to her nomination for the European Inventor Award. “Her inventions have led to a number of breakthrough dental technologies, including nanocomposites, resin-modified glass ionomers and dental adhesives,” as per the National Hall of Fame press release. Other products that have resulted from her innovations include Viteremer™ and Vitrebond™ Resin-modified Glass Ionomers, RelyX™ Luting Cements, Scotchbond Multipurpose™ Adhesive and APC™ Orthodontic Bracket Adhesive.
She retired from 3M in 2010 after 32 years of service, and continues to contribute to research and development through her own consulting company, Mitra Chemical Consulting, LLC, a company she set up with her husband, which advises companies on new technology development, product design, commercialization, mergers and acquisitions.
She was named an American Chemical Society Hero of Chemistry in 2009, inducted into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2018 and elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2021 for her work related to inventions in nanotechnology for use in dental materials. Other awards include a Hollenback Memorial Prize from the Academy of Operative Dentistry (2020); a Peyton-Skinner Award for Innovation in Dental Materials from the International Association of Dental Research (2012); and a Top 25 Women in Dentistry Award (2010).
Mitra was elected to the 3M Carlton Society in 1998 – the highest 3M award given for lifelong contribution to R&D.She also volunteers in her community and hopes to inspire young people to develop an interest in science.