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Harvard’s Wyss Institute Receives Multiple Honors for Innovative Organ-on-Chip Technologies

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BOSTON — The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University announced today that its researchers received a total of seven awards at this week’s 50th Annual Meeting of the Society of Toxicology (SOT). The awards recognized their contributions to developing novel alternatives to animal testing for predicting toxicity and assessing risk in humans. The SOT annual meeting is one of the largest toxicology events in the world, attended by more than 7,000 scientists from academia, government, and industry.

The researchers honored are working to combine microfabrication techniques used by the computer industry with modern tissue engineering techniques and human cells to replicate the complex physiological functions and mechanical environments of living human organs and thereby create more human-relevant in vitro testing systems.

The organ-on-chip devices using this technology have the potential to provide more predictive and useful measures of the efficacy and safety of new drugs at a fraction of the time and costs associated with traditional animal testing methods.

"These awards show how our work in biologically inspired engineering is truly at the leading edge of technology development. There was great interest and excitement among the members of the toxicology community for the models that we are developing and for their enormous potential as alternatives to traditional methods," said Wyss Institute Founding Director, Donald E. Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. "We are especially proud of our students and fellows for their incredible technical contributions, and for standing out in such a competitive field."

The ground-breaking work by Ingber and Dan Huh, Ph.D., a Technology Development Fellow at the Wyss Institute, in developing a living, breathing human lung-on-a-chip received the Best Publication Award from the Nanotoxicology Specialty Section of the SOT. Their winning paper—"Reconstituting Organ-Level Functions on a Chip"–appeared in the June 25 issue of the journal Science.

Huh also took first place in the In Vitro and Alternative Methods Annual Student/Postdoctoral Competition and his colleague, Anna Grosberg, Ph.D., who is a postdoctoral student in the lab of Wyss core faculty member, Kevin Kit Parker, Ph.D., took second place in the same category. These awards honor researchers who have made significant contributions to developing in vitro test systems as rapid, cost-effective alternatives to animal testing for predictive toxicology and risk assessment.

Grosberg also received a research award for Distinction in Practical In Vitro and Alternative Toxicology Methods, as well as a travel award from the Regulatory and Safety Evaluation Specialty Section of the SOT for her poster abstract describing a heart-on-a-chip microtechnology. Wyss graduate student Kyung-Jin Jang received a Graduate Student Trainee Award for Meritorious Presentation from the Korean Toxicologists Association in America, as well as a travel award from the Regulatory and Safety Evaluation Specialty Section of the SOT for her poster abstract describing the novel human kidney-on-a-chip device she engineered for screening the renal toxicity of drugs.

Lawrence Tabak, Principal Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health, opened the Annual Meeting with a keynote lecture entitled "Catalyzing Innovation: The View from NIH." In this lecture, he discussed the NIH’s partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in which the two entities have joined forces to address the critical public health issue of advancing regulatory science. That partnership resulted in several jointly funded awards in 2010, including more than $3 million to Wyss Institute researchers Ingber and Parker to develop a "heart-lung micromachine" to provide measures of the efficacy and safety of inhaled drugs and nanoparticles on integrated lung and heart function.

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