Sumita Mitra nominated for European Inventor Award 2021
Sumita Mitra, an Indian-American chemist, has been nominated as a finalist for the European Inventor Award 2021 for applying nanotechnology to produce a new composite restorative material, which has many advantages over conventional materials.
Ever since its advent in the 1960s, composite restorations have revolutionized dentistry. All thanks to Sumita Mitra, an Indian-American chemist, who in the late 1990s brought in innovation in the traditional composites with the help of nanotechnology ultimately making it more aesthetic and strong.
Sumita Mitra has recently been nominated as the finalist for the European Inventor Award 2021 in the category of non-EPO countries for her innovation in ‘Restoring smiles with nanomaterials’, the winners of which shall be announced at a ceremony on 17 June 2021.
Composites prior to the innovation : Until the 1990’s composites used were either composite microfills that were too weak to bear biting forces or hybrid composites which were aesthetically inferior.
Sumita Mitra’s Innovation [1,2]: Sumita Mitra was the first person to develop a dental filler using nanotechnology that improved the properties of restorations in terms of strength, wear resistance, and aesthetics. This new composite filling material launched in 2002 was called Filtek Supreme Universal Restorative and was recognized as a versatile material that could be used for restoring teeth in any area of the mouth after which 3M Oral Care launched newer generations of Filtek in 2005, 2012, and 2019.
Products made using Sumita Mitra’s innovation [1,2]: Mitra holds about 100 US patents and their international equivalents which have helped her and her team to protect as well as commercialize her innovation. Ranging from nanocomposites, resin-modified glass ionomers to dental adhesives, her innovation has formed the base for multiple dental products which have been used in over 1 billion restorations worldwide. Apart from Filtek some other products that have made use of her innovation include Viteremer and Vitrebond Resin-modified Glass Ionomers, RelyX Luting Cements, Scotchbond Multipurpose Adhesive, and APC Orthodontic Bracket Adhesive.
What inspired Mitra’s innovation : Sumita Mitra explains that the key to her innovation was a bunch of grapes and mentions that “If we look at a bunch of grapes, they are all of the different sizes. Some are small and some are big so that the small ones can fit in between the large ones to create a cluster. Also, the size of the clusters can vary greatly. Some of the bunches could have five grapes and some could have 20 grapes or 100 grapes.”
Back in the 1990’s Sumita Mitra had realized the shortcomings of the traditional composites while working in the Oral Care division of ‘3M’, an American multinational company, and was determined on finding an alternative. On realizing that the root cause of all the problems was the particle size in the case of hybrid composites and loose packing of particles in the case of micro-filled composites, Mitra and her team experimented by incorporating uniform nanoparticles of approximately 20 nanometres in size into the resins and found that although the mechanical and optical properties improved, this technique was unsuitable in dentistry.
Then, inspired by the ‘bunch of grapes model’ they developed a technique for creating loosely bound clusters of nanoparticles of varied sizes and combined these nanoclusters with precisely engineered individual nanoparticles of varying diameters which resulted in a robust, durable, and lustrous material with excellent handling properties. Further, by adding tiny amounts of pigment and altering the chemical composition of nanoparticles, they could even create a range of shades to match individual patient’s teeth.
Sumita Mitra currently runs her own consulting company and also volunteers in her community to inspire young minds to develop an interest in science to ensure that the legacy of innovation continues in the future.
‘Just as a magic wand enhances the magic of a magician, innovations like that of Sumita Mitra complement the smiles delivered by dentists’
1. Finalist for the European Inventor Award 2021. https://www.epo.org/news-events/events/european-inventor/finalists/2021/mitra.html
2. Sumita Mitra. https://www.invent.org/inductees/sumita-mitra