Yukiji Fujimoto '03

New York City, Gatekeeper

yukiji fujimotoAt Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, doctors and 
researchers who think they have a breakthrough idea—like the first knee implant, which was developed there in the 1970s—must first convince Yukiji Fujimoto '03.

“Basically my first thing to do is to kill the idea,” says Fujimoto, the manager of technology development at the hospital’s Innovation Center.

“I am part of an evaluation process that ensures that only the most feasible innovations are explored.”

“My first thing to do is to kill the idea.”

To survive, an idea must pass Fujimoto’s first round of questions: Is it useful? Is it novel? Is it not obvious to those skilled in the field? After the idea passes, her job is to help get it patented and turned into a product. Last year, Fujimoto helped write patent applications for half of the 20 ideas—disclosures, as they’re called—that came into her office. In that same year, she raised nearly $400,000 to advance technological innovations and attract external commercial investors.

At Sarah Lawrence, Fujimoto sculpted and studied art history and fiction writing, all while pursuing premed courses. After college, she was accepted into medical school, but decided she liked research more than patient care, so she worked as a technician at Hospital for Special Surgery, where she had interned as an undergraduate. Later she earned a PhD in chemistry at Stony Brook University, specializing in computational biology. “We used computers to answer biological questions about how molecules interact with each other,” she explains.

Ten years after she started at Hospital for Special Surgery, Fujimoto returned to work there in the technology transfer office (which later became the Innovation Center). The first idea to land on her desk was for a patch—made from a novel material platform composed of carbon nanorods and polymer—that would prevent the gelatinous material inside a herniated disc (“the jelly in the jelly doughnut,” as she describes it) from leaking out after surgery. So far it’s cleared initial safety studies and is now being tested in small animals—well along the path of innovation that leads from idea to reality.