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Dr. Alya Limayem inducted into 2024 Class of Senior Members of the National Academy of Inventors

Alya Limayem posed next to a microscope in her white coatThe advent of antibiotics over a century ago marked a watershed moment in modern medicine, transforming our ability to combat bacterial infections and save countless lives.  

However, the widespread and sustained use of these drugs has led to an alarming rise in antibiotic resistance and severe infections, particularly among immunocompromised populations, posing severe health risks.  

Addressing this critical issue, University of North Florida’s Dr. Alya Limayem, associate professor of biology, has spearheaded pivotal research initiatives since her doctoral studies at the University of Arkansas as well as throughout her tenure at the University of South Florida. Limayem's groundbreaking work utilizes nanotechnology to innovate new methods for combating drug-resistant bacteria and eventually the emerging infectious diseases including viral infections.  

Nanotechnology, a key scientific frontier of this decade, has applications spanning diverse fields, including sports, electronics, construction and medical research. Limayem’s research studies have led to the innovative use of chitosan — a versatile biopolymer derived from the exoskeletons of crustaceans such as shellfish — as a nanocomponent targeting multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria. When combined with zinc oxide, another nanocomponent, this formulation becomes synergistically effective against a broad spectrum of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   

Furthermore, some theranostic nanoparticles developed by Limayem and her team of researchers can differentiate between healthy cells and those infected with or resistant to bacteria, selectively eradicating only the harmful cells.  

“Our goal was to discover new types of ‘green’ nanodrugs, replacing the conventional antibiotics that are safer, cost-effective, potent, and less likely to provoke additional bacterial resistance,” explained Limayem.  

She highlighted the critical role of natural microbiomes in our body, which support immune function, brain health and overall homeostasis and equilibrium. These beneficial bacteria can be compromised by stressors like weakened immunity, poor diet, or exposure to massive use of antibiotics, generating resistant bacteria including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Vancomycin resistant Enterococcus (VRE) Part of ESKAPE, often acquired in hospitals or from environmental sources, leading to diminished effectiveness of traditional antibiotics.  

“This discovery is a significant advancement in the management of antibiotic resistance,” Limayem said, affirming the safety and viability of her approach.  

As a prolific researcher, author and lecturer, Limayem has earned three patents primarily in areas related to microbial drug resistance and the beneficial effects of probiotics on the gastrointestinal tract. One of her papers related to renewable resources and published by Elsevier — a leading scientific publisher— ranks third among the top 25 papers and has garnered approximately 2,000 citations globally.  

Reflecting on the rigorous review spanning several years when applying for a patent, from submission to acceptance, Limayem said once received, it helps validate her work.    

“Securing patents not only fulfills a key goal but also validates the significance of our work,” Limayem explained. “It lends credibility that we are offering useful products and impactful solutions to society to serve public health."    

In recognition of her contributions, Limayem will be inducted as a member of the 2024 Class of Senior Members of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). This prestigious program annually honors inventors who have demonstrated success in patents, licensing and commercialization, contributing significantly to societal welfare and global well-being.  

Additionally, Limayem and one of her research students will expose their latest findings at the American Society of Microbiology, General Meeting this summer in Atlanta, further engaging the scientific community in her innovative research.  

Outside the laboratory and classroom, Limayem enjoys maintaining an active lifestyle at the gym, playing tennis, indulging in the arts (music, dance and painting), and cherishing quality time with her family and friends.