What is the Wyss Institute?
The Wyss (pronounced “veese”) Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University emulates Nature’s design principles to engineer new bioinspired materials and devices with high-impact applications in healthcare, manufacturing, robotics, energy, and sustainable architecture.
The Institute works as an alliance among Harvard’s Schools of Harvard’s Schools of Medicine, Engineering, Arts & Sciences, Design, and Education; with other leading clinical and academic institutions in the Boston area, including, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Boston University, Tufts University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; as well as Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the University of Zurich.
Its cross-disciplinary faculty, technical staff, students, and fellows engage in high-risk research and technology development. The organization brings academics together with staff who have diverse industrial and clinical experience. Their technological discoveries are translated into commercial products and therapies through technology licensing agreements and collaborations with industrial partners and new startups.
What is the mission of the Wyss Institute?
The mission of the Wyss Institute is to:
Transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds.
Hence, the goals of the Institute are:
- Discover and apply the principles that nature uses to build, control, and manufacture
- Engineer biologically inspired materials and devices to revolutionize healthcare and enhance sustainability
What is the Wyss Institute's relationship to Harvard?
The institute was seeded in 2005 when the Provost of Harvard University convened a committee of Harvard faculty to envision the future of bioengineering. The vision for an institute focused on biologically inspired engineering emerged from this committee, and Harvard provided seed funding to create the Harvard Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering in January of 2008.
In January of 2009, a $125 million gift from Hansjorg Wyss established this as the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, a cross-disciplinary, independent Institute at Harvard with alliances to all of Harvards schools, as well as to other leading academic and clinical institutions in the Boston area.
Is biologically inspired engineering the same as bioengineering?
Typically, bioengineers apply engineering principles to solve medical problems. In biologically inspired engineering, the design principles found in nature are applied to engineer bioinspired materials and devices that will not only transform medicine, but also nonmedical areas, such as energy, architecture, and manufacturing, which have never before been touched by the biology revolution.
How is the Wyss Institute different from other research institutes?
Many institutes engage in research that is already supported by preliminary results or prior work and that typically leads to incremental, near-term improvements. But the Wyss Institute pursues the kind of high-risk research that can open entirely new avenues of investigation and result in major advances that truly transform society. We are likely to have failures along the way, but we also expect to have some major breakthroughs.
Many institutes describe themselves as interdisciplinary because they combine different fields of science. But the Wyss takes “interdisciplinary” to a whole new level by bringing together world-leading researchers, theoreticians, and technical staff with clinicians and industrial collaborators in fields ranging from architecture and design to robotics, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology.
Another unique aspect of the Wyss Institute is its broad network of collaborating academic and clinical institutions.
Is the Wyss Institute geared primarily toward research?
Research is only part of the Wyss Institute’s mission. The major focus is on technology development and its translation into products and therapies that will have an impact on the world in which we live. The Wyss does this by bringing in technical staff who have extensive industrial experience in product development and team management, by establishing collaborations with clinical investigators, and by creating corporate alliances.
Does the Wyss Institute have many opportunities for employment or open academic positions?
We regularly have openings for both research and administrative staff, which are posted in “Staff Positions” on our website. We often seek individuals of outstanding talent and technical skills who can help advance the Institute’s Enabling Technology Platforms as Wyss Technology Development Fellows, Clinical Scholars, or members of our Advanced Technology Teams. We welcome student and postdoc applications at all times, and we also fund several summer research positions for undergraduates from any university to work with us.
What are the Wyss Institute's major areas of focus?
Molecular biomarkers hold great promise for diagnosing diseases at earlier, more treatable stages, but their full potential has not yet been realized. We are changing that by combining powerful biological, chemical, engineering, and computational tools to create novel diagnostics that can detect biomarkers down to the single-molecule level, both in the lab and at the point-of-care.
We are using a multifaceted strategy to advance the development of better therapeutics and the discovery of new ones, using diverse approaches including predictive bioanalytics, machine learning, synthetic biology, and new preclinical models like human Organ Chips.
The future of medicine is inextricably linked with broad-ranging technological innovations. From biological materials to medical devices to new approaches in regenerative medicine, we are developing cutting-edge technologies to redefine healthcare by tackling urgent in-hospital, at-home, and point-of-care needs.
Human health is dependent on the health of our planet. We are applying our diverse skill set across a wide range of disciplines to tackle global threats including air pollution, water contamination, plastic waste, and greenhouse gas emissions.
What are Platforms and Initiatives?
The Wyss Institute’s scientific operations are organized around eight major Platforms and Initiatives based on development of new core technologies and capabilities that will facilitate the explosion of major R&D areas in the field of bioinspired engineering. Our Platforms and Initiatives integrate multiple faculty members with the Advanced Technology Teams, clinical experts, and industrial partners.
The Institute Platforms and Initiatives are:
- Bioinspired Therapeutics & Diagnostics: Therapeutic discovery and diagnostics development enabled by microsystems engineering, molecular engineering, computational design, and organ-on-a-chip in vitro human experimentation technology
- Computational Design & Discovery: Combining predictive bioanalytics and machine learning with physical and mathematical modeling and simulation
- Diagnostics Accelerator: Developing new diagnostic technologies that solve important healthcare challenges through collaboration at the Wyss Institute with clinicians and industry partners
- Immuno-Materials: Material-based systems capable of modulating immune cells ex vivo and in the human body to treat or diagnose disease
- Living Cellular Devices: Re-engineered living cells and biological circuits as programmable devices for medicine, manufacturing and sustainability
- Molecular Robotics: Self-assembling molecules that can be programmed like robots to carry out specific tasks without requiring power
- 3D Organ Engineering: Highly functional, multiscale, vascularized organ replacements that can be seamlessly integrated into the body
- Synthetic Biology: Breakthrough approaches to reading, writing, and editing nucleic acids and proteins for multiple applications, varying from healthcare to data storage