Sumita Mitra has won the European Patent Office (EPO) innovation prize in the non-EPO countries category of its 2021 European Inventor Awards for her work in developing nanotechnology for dental materials.
“Sumita Mitra took an entirely new path in her field and demonstrated how technological innovation, protected by patents, can transform a sector, and in this case bring benefits to millions of dental patients,” said EPO president António Campinos.
“Her invention remains commercially successful nearly 20 years after its launch, another reason why she is an inspiration to the next generation of scientists,” Campinos said.
While working in 3M’s oral care division in the late 1990s, Mitra became aware of the limitations of existing materials used in dental fillings, which were either too weak to be used on biting surfaces or quickly lost their polish. At the same time, nanotechnology was emerging as a field of research.
Mitra decided to explore how these new developments could be applied to dentistry. She began working on nanotechnology-based solutions for a new dental material, driven by a desire to use her expertise in polymer chemistry and materials science to develop inventions that solve real-life problems, the EPO said.
Mitra and her team developed a technique for creating linked clusters of nanoparticles they called nanoclusters that combine single nanoparticles of varying diameters to create a strong, durable, and shiny material, the EPO said.
By adding tiny amounts of pigment and altering the chemical composition of the nanoparticles, the team also was able to create a range of different shades that could be matched to individual teeth and layered to create a more natural finish, the EPO said.
“The use of nanotechnology have me the opportunity to make a new material,” Mitra said. “It restores people’s smiles and improves the quality of their lives.”
Following this development, Mitra worked with 3M’s patent attorneys to draft the patents to protect her research. Although several new generations of the material have been developed since its launch in 2002 at Filtek Supreme Universal Restorative, the current line of products is still based on her European patents.
The EPO noted that Mitra’s legacy can be seen in how 3M was named one of the top three manufacturers of global composite fillings in the dental restoration market in 2019. She retired from 3M in 2010, but products based on her inventions have been used in more than a billion tooth restorations worldwide, the EPO said.
Mitra continues to contribute to research and development through her own consulting company, Mitra Chemical Consulting, which advises companies on new technology development, product design, commercialization, and mergers and acquisitions.
Also, Mitra enjoys volunteering at schools and colleges, passing on her enthusiasm for science to young people.
“Curiosity and exploration are the essential points of starting an innovation. It is something that we really need to cultivate in our children,” Mitra said.