The award recognizes Walt’s invention of microwell arrays that advanced the field of genomics and proteomics, and transformed cancer diagnostics, pre-implantation embryo analysis, plant and animal breeding and other areas
(BOSTON) — Today, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) announced Wyss Core Faculty member David Walt as the recipient of its 2023 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize. Walt is honored for the development of microwell arrays that greatly advanced the fields of genomics and proteomics. Awarded biennially, the Russ Prize recognizes an outstanding bioengineering achievement in widespread use that improves the human condition. Walt receives a $500,000 cash award and a commemorative medallion.
“David’s development of microwell arrays has had a profound impact that affects literally millions of people in multiple ways, from broadening genetic research to detecting cancer treatment to improving crop performance,” said NAE President John L. Anderson. “Microarray technology has had a tremendous commercial impact as well and is used to provide genetic information for the millions of customers using genealogy products and services,” he added.
In the genomics field, the microarrays developed in the Walt Laboratory are used by thousands of researchers to discover genetic variation. The microarray and sequencing platforms are being used by many companies and hospitals to detect and diagnose cancer and assist in finding the right therapeutic regimens that will target the tumor. Current commercial products are used to identify potential genetic defects in early-stage embryos before implantation for in vitro fertilization. The innovation is also used to identify metabolic profiles of individuals who will receive certain drugs so that they can be dosed properly, and to investigate human traits and diseases.
Microarrays are also used extensively in agriculture for both plant and animal breeding to optimize traits and maximize production. For example, they are used to study and improve crop disease resistance to produce more food on a given amount of land; for animal breeding to ensure that it is both successful and produces offspring with the most desirable traits (used widely in the cattle industry); and to ensure pathogen resistance and faster growth rates in fish aquaculture.
“David’s development of microwell arrays embodies the purpose of the Russ Prize, which recognizes an outstanding bioengineering achievement in widespread use that improves the human condition,” Anderson noted. “Additionally, his achievement should help the public better understand and appreciate the contributions of engineers to our health, well-being and quality of life, while encouraging collaboration between the engineering and medical/biological professions to work closely together.”
Walt is a Core Faculty Member of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and a founder and lead of the Wyss Diagnostic Accelerator (Wyss DxA), which works toward the fast creation of diagnostic technologies to solve high-value clinical problems through deep collaborations between bioengineers, clinicians and industry partners. He is also the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Bioinspired Engineering at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Associate Member at the Broad Institute, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, and Codirector of the Mass General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation. In addition, Walt is the scientific founder of Illumina Inc. and Quanterix Corp., and has cofounded multiple other life sciences startups including Ultivue, Inc., Arbor Biotechnologies, Sherlock Biosciences, Vizgen, Inc., and Torus Biosciences.
His numerous national and international awards and honors for his fundamental and applied work in the field of optical microwell arrays and single molecules include the 2021 Kabiller Prize in Nanoscience and Nanomedicine (2021), American Chemical Society Kathryn C. Hach Award for Entrepreneurial Success (2017), Ralph Adams Award in Bioanalytical Chemistry (2016), ACS Gustavus John Esselen Award (2014), Analytical Chemistry Spectrochemical Analysis Award (2013), Pittsburgh Analytical Chemistry Award (2013), and ACS National Award for Creative Invention (2010).
Walt is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and U.S. National Academy of Medicine; a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and National Academy of Inventors; and was inducted in the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan and his doctoral degree in chemical biology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook (now Stony Brook University).