Big Investment in Biological Engineering

  • Medicine & Health
  • 2009

The founder of a firm that makes many of the plates and screws used to repair broken bones, sold to Johnson & Johnson for $20 billion, gave $125 million in 2009 to establish an institute for “biologically inspired engineering” at Harvard, the largest single gift ever received by the university. In 2013, Swiss-born Hansjoerg Wyss gave another $125 million for the same purpose to the school where he earned his MBA in 1965. Thanks to these gifts the Wyss Institute now employs 350 full-time researchers working on programs such as Human Organs-on-Chips—microchips lined with human cells that are poised to revolutionize drug development and environmental testing by replacing animal studies; a Biospleen that cleans blood of  many toxins and pathogens by mimicking the body’s natural immune system; a new surface coating called SLIPS that prevents blood coagulation in dialysis devices and tubing; and many other practical products. Aiming to bridge the divide that separates academic labs from products and drugs with immediate practical value, the Wyss Institute is involved in a spectrum of activity stretching from basic scientific research to industrial fabrication to business development. Wyss also has supported medical research at Clemson University, the University of Washington, the University of Mississippi, the University of Maryland, the University of South Alabama, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.