A University of Maryland Eastern Shore professor and one of her former graduate assistants are recipients of an “Invention of the Year Award” the state’s flagship university in College Park bestows annually to researchers doing cutting-edge work.

Dr. Patrice Jackson-Ayotunde, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences at UMES, and Dr. Tawes Harper, a pharmacy program graduate, were recognized for their pioneering work in 2013 on developing medication to treat epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder characterized by recurring seizures, which can be debilitating. Some patients experience multiple episodes daily.

Research by Jackson-Ayotunde and Harper focused on designing and producing novel anticonvulsant analogs as potential agents for treatment of therapy-resistant, partial epilepsy. They identified at least a dozen compounds that show anti-epileptic properties in multiple animal models with limited-to-no-observed neurotoxicity.

“This (peer) recognition means a lot,” Jackson-Ayotunde said. “I’m passionate about the research I do as a medicinal chemist, and working with students.”

Her research already has qualified for a provisional patent, but she noted that safely moving a preliminary medicinal finding from the lab to the patient can take 15-to-20 years.

“With the many hours spent in the lab – working on potential agents – it’s all about the patients suffering epilepsy. The goal is to discover new effective and safe therapeutics that will give epileptic patients a better quality of life,” she said.

The College Park campus’ Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) sponsors the annual Invention of the Year Awards program, now in its 27th year.

In 2013, it received 154 nominations and from that group, 11 were chosen as finalists based on their impact on science, society and market potential.