The Next Technology Wave: Biologically Inspired Engineering

Orator: Donald E. Ingber, M.D., Ph.D.
Founding Director, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology, Harvard Medical School & Boston Children’s Hospital, Professor of Bioengineering, Harvard School of Engineering & Applied Sciences.

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University that I lead was founded in 2009 to develop new engineering innovations by emulating the way nature builds. Over the past 5 years, the Institute has pioneered a new model for innovation, trans-disciplinary collaboration and technology translation, while developing an exciting pipeline of new bio-inspired technologies, including two that have entered human clinical trials. A few examples include therapeutic cancer vaccines that act as artificial lymph nodes; nanotherapeutics that target to vascular occlusion sites like artificial platelets; self-assembling DNA-based nanorobots that can be programmed to travel to cancer sites and kill tumor cells; and a microfluidic device that cleanses blood of pathogens and toxins in septic patients like the human spleen.

In addition to summarizing these developments, in this oration I will highlight recent advances my team has made in the engineering of microfluidic “Organs-on-Chips”, microchips lined by living human cells created with microfabrication techniques that recapitulate organ-level structure and functions as a way to replace animal testing for drug development and mechanistic discovery. I will review recent advances we have made in the engineering of multiple organ chips, including lung, gut, kidney, liver and bone marrow chips.

This new bioinspired technology wave represents a major paradigm shift in medicine, and the novel organizational structure of the Institute offers an entirely new way to translate our discoveries into breakthrough products in the academic setting.