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A Year in Review: 2019

Highlights from the end of a decade

This was a big year for the Wyss Institute. It was our 10th anniversary, filled with scientific breakthroughs and translational successes, by a community bound together by creativity and a shared vision for bringing about positive near-term impact in the world.

Translation Successes

Since the Wyss’s founding a decade ago, we have lived by the ethos that breakthrough discoveries cannot change the world if they do not leave the lab. As part of our mission to have near-term impact on the world, we translate our disruptive technologies into commercial products through the formation of new startups and licensing agreements. 

The Root robot can be programmed to perform a variety of actions based on what students draw on a whiteboard, including avoid obstacles, play music, and flash its lights. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

This past year we have seen our most startup and licensing activity to dateWe launched five startups though Harvard’s Office of Technology Development and executed four additional licensing agreements. Some of these include Sherlock Biosciences, which is developing a synthetic biology-based diagnostic platform to enable low-cost, highly sensitive detection of nucleic acids for use in a wide range of settings; BOA Biomedicalwhich is developing a device to rapidly diagnose and treat infectious diseases, focusing specifically on sepsis and antibiotic-resistant infections; and FitBiomics, a startup that is developing probiotics that have the potential to enhance athletic performance.  

Additionally, our 2017 spinout, Root Robotics, which offers an educational robot to teach students how to code, was acquired this year by iRobot. AlsoReWalk Robotics received FDA clearance this year for a soft exosuit for stroke rehabilitation that was originally developed and de-risked at the Wyss Institute. 

Our Most Read News Stories

Over the course of the year, we published more than 50 news stories about some of the incredible discoveries and advances published by our research teams. Wyss community members authored over 160 papers in peer reviewed journals, including four in Science and six in Nature. Our most popular stories include the following:

A swifter way towards 3D-printed organs
Sacrificial ink-writing technique allows 3D printing of large, vascularized human organ building blocks
September 6 | Science Advances 

Suit up with a robot to walk AND run more easily
A versatile, portable exosuit that assists both walking and running highlights the potential for lightweight and non-restrictive wearable robots outside the lab
August 15 | Science 

Discovery of performance-enhancing bacteria in the human microbiome
A single microbe accumulating in the microbiome of elite athletes can enhance exercise performance in mice, paving the way to highly-validated performance-enhancing probiotics
June 24 | Nature Medicine 

Top News Coverage

News from the Wyss caught the eye of several major media outlets throughout the year. Improvements in the Wyss’s tough gel technology were covered by WBUR, additional innovation to our “hip exosuit” that assists with both walking and running was highlighted by CNBC, and NBC News featured a story on the Wyss’s new 3D-bioprinting technique called SWIFT (Sacrificial Writing into Functional Tissue) that uses living cells to “print” functional heart tissues. And, our hometown paper, The Boston Globe reported on a variety of Wyss work this year, including a study on using gene therapy to delay aging and a new soft gripper that can be used to safely study jellyfish without damage. Beyond covering published scientific work, The Smithsonian Magazine highlighted the Wyss Institutes Selects exhibit at Cooper Hewitt in New York City, showcasing the intersection between science and design.

Engaging Social Media Posts

Senior Functional Apparel Designer Dorothy Orzel posed for a photo in her workspace. The image was featured in her Humans of the Wyss profile and on social media.

By and large, we’ve increased our social media presence in 2019. Members of our Wyss community, along with fellow researchers, biotech and healthcare professionals, and those with curious minds, showed great interest in the Wyss’s activities.

In March on Facebook, we celebrated International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month with a photo series highlighting how women at the Wyss are making their mark. This year we also revamped our Humans of the Wyss series, through which we feature members of the Wyss community discussing their work, the influences that shape them as scientists, and their collaborations at the Wyss Institute and beyond. Senior Functional Apparel Designer Dorothy Orzel’s story intrigued many, with her unique background in the clothing industry and as a teacher at an apparel program. And in April, people showed support for the Wyss’s AbbieSense technology during #WorldAllergyWeek.

On Twitter, there was excitement around the news that 11 members of the Wyss community were among the most cited researchers of 2019 – including 10 faculty members and one staff member. Earlier in the year, Wyss researchers attended Amazon reMARS and famous faces such as Jeff Bezos and Shaquille O’Neal took turns playing with the RoboBee. While these special honors resulted in a lot of fanfare, our audience also engaged with our research developments, such as a publication in mSystems about an effective, non-invasive method to identify new bacterial biosensors that can recognize and report various disease triggers in the gut in a timely fashion.  

From a tiny risky startup, to an engine for disruptive innovation powered by Biologically Inspired Engineering with people at its heart…

#WyssAt10

The research and activities at the Wyss throughout 2019 produced many stunning images, giving us a lot to share on Instagram this year. Photos from the new Multimaterial Multinozzle 3D Printer piqued the interest of many. This year, the Wyss celebrated our 10th anniversary, and in January we honored the occasion with a #WyssAt10 campaign, highlighting different areas of growth and accomplishment across the Institute. To introduce the campaign, we shared a collection of photos with the text, “From a tiny risky startup, to an engine for disruptive innovation powered by Biologically Inspired Engineering with people at its heart – Happy 10th Anniversary Wyss Institute.” For Earth Day, we created a visual representation of how our technologies are inspired by Nature, showing our appreciation for the planet and what it offers.  

Inspired by Nature, Built by Science

Community Highlights

Our year in review would not be complete if we did not highlight our community. Scroll through the photos to find out more about what we’ve been doing.

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