UArizona nutrition expert named to National Academy of Inventors

researchers working in a lab

Floyd "Ski" Chilton (second from left) and his lab team examine how genetic and epigenetic variations interact with human diets to drive inflammation and inflammatory disorders, as well as psychiatric and developmental disorders.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

University of Arizona professor Floyd "Ski" Chilton has been named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the highest professional distinction awarded to academic inventors, the organization announced Thursday.

Chilton is a professor in the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and is director of the university's Center for Precision Nutrition and Wellness.

"I've always believed that creativity and imagination, much more than intelligence and scientific acumen, are the qualities that lead to the great  discoveries which benefit society," Chilton said. "Consequently, I am so honored and humbled to have been named to the National Academy of Inventors."

The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a 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.

"With his important work at the nexxus of precision wellness and disease prevention, Dr. Chilton's innovation-focused mindset is what sets him apart and has led to this well-deserved honor," said Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, UArizona senior vice president for research and innovation. "Perhaps most notable is how Ski has applied his scientific expertise and creativity to so many different disciplines including academics, invention discoveries, for-profit industry, global nonprofit organizations and lay book publishing."

"The NAI Fellow designation is an important recognition of achievement for innovative faculty," said Doug Hockstad, associate vice president of Tech Launch Arizona, the unit of the university that commercializes inventions stemming from research. "Ski's achievements have been impressive and we are excited by NAI's acknowledgment of his work."

Chilton's 40-year research career has focused on precision, or personalized, health and disease prevention, addressing racial health disparities and, more recently, analyzing different types of complex data using high-resolution statistics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. His work has focused on discerning the molecular and genetic underpinnings that lead to diseases like COVID-19, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Chilton's current research focuses on precision nutrition and how gene-diet interactions impact immune signaling and how ancestry-based, gene-diet interactions drive inflammatory and cardiometabolic diseases as well as racial and ethnic disparities. His passion, he says, is "providing solutions to overcome physical and emotional suffering so that people can live better, more joyful lives."

Recognized as a pioneer in precision nutrition and wellness, Chilton has over 160 scientific publications, is an inventor on over 30 patents, and has received over 35 years of continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health. Among his patented inventions are methods for treating asthma, hay fever and atopic dermatitis; genetically modified microorganisms that synthesize high levels of omega-3 fatty acids; and methods for identifying biomarkers and molecular networks that impact and are associated with cancer and COVID-19 severity.

These patents have served as the basis for several startup companies including the public company Pilot Therapeutics Inc., which created and sold medical food products based on Chilton's patents for the dietary management of asthma and allergic rhinitis. Chilton founded the company in 1998, helped take it public in 2001, and served as its CEO from 2001 to 2003. In his latest startup, Resonance Pharma Inc., he has formed a partnership with the research and development powerhouse Cayman Chemical Company Inc. to develop groundbreaking diagnostic tests and lifesaving therapies, including repurposed and newly discovered drugs for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, bacteremia and sepsis.

"Dr. Chilton has made a number of impressive contributions throughout his career, and his continuing work in the field of precision health and nutrition will have a significant and lasting impact on many people's lives," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "I am thrilled that he is the latest University of Arizona innovator to be named to the prestigious National Academy of Inventors."

In 2002, Chilton was one of three finalists for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in North and South Carolina. His nonprofit leadership roles include founder and chairman of the board of Heroes Helping Heroes, which provides  mentoring and heath and wellness solutions for at-risk children in South Africa and the U.S., and chairman of the board of the Persecution Project Foundation, which has provided two decades of crisis relief in Sudan.

Chilton has been recognized with the Alumni Achievement Award at Western Carolina University, the Denham Harmon Outstanding Research Achievement Award from the American College for Advancement of Medicine, the 2016 Established Investigator Award at Wake Forest School of Medicine, and the 2002 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year for North and South Carolina.

Chilton has published five books for the general public on nutrition, diet, and physical and mental health. His 2005 bestseller, "Inflammation Nation," was among the first books to bring awareness to the public of the inflammation epidemic being driven by obesity and lifestyle, and how to make dietary and lifestyle choices to prevent, treat and reverse inflammation and inflammatory disease. This book was followed by "Win the War Within," "The Gene Smart Diet" and "Made to Crave Action Plan." His most recent book, "The Rewired Brain," focuses on how thought patterns alter brain circuitry.

Chilton is one of 169 inventors from 110 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes worldwide selected this year to become NAI fellows. He will be inducted with the rest of the 2022 class at the Fellows Induction Ceremony at the 12th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors on June 27 in Washington, D.C.