Walt is being recognized for his work’s extraordinary impact on modern medicine and for providing solutions to urgent problems in genetics, as well as medical and environmental diagnostics
(BOSTON) — Today, Northwestern University announced Wyss Core faculty member David Walt, Ph.D. as one of three winners of the 2021 international Kabiller prize and awards, which biennially recognize three top scholars — one pioneer, one young investigator and one rising star — in the field of nanoscience and nanomedicine. Established in 2015, the Kabiller Prize and Kabiller Young Investigator Award have been made possible through the generosity of entrepreneur and Northwestern trustee and alumnus David G. Kabiller, M.B.A. In 2018, Kabiller endowed the Kabiller Prize and Award, ensuring that this transformative recognition continues in perpetuity.
Walt, who also is the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Pathology at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Brigham), and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, has been selected as the “pioneer” to receive the $250,000 Kabiller Prize in Nanoscience and Nanomedicine. The Prize is the world’s largest monetary award for a career of outstanding achievement in the field of nanotechnology and its application to medicine and biology. Walt is recognized for his pioneering work in developing ultrasensitive single-molecule array detection technology, which is impacting the way cancer, infectious disease, and neurological disorders are diagnosed and treated.
“Professor Walt’s name is synonymous with both optical sensing and ultrasensitive diagnostics, and his scientific impact on the fields of nanoscience and nanomedicine is truly remarkable,” Kabiller said. “His optical microwell array sensors have impacted the health of millions of people around the world, and his founding of the company Illumina has changed the way DNA sequencing is done around the world. We are thrilled to recognize research marked with this level of creativity and insight.”
Next to Walt, Bin Liu, Ph.D., the Provost’s Chair Professor at National University of Singapore, will receive the $10,000 Kabiller Young Investigator’s Award in Nanoscience and Nanomedicine for the development of nanoparticle probes for enhancing biomedical imaging capabilities and tracking disease. As the inaugural recipient of the $2,000 Kabiller Rising Star Award in Nanoscience and Nanomedicine, which recognizes outstanding contributions by early career faculty, Natalie Artzi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and a Research Scientist at the Brigham was selected. Artzi designs smart material platforms and medical devices aimed at monitoring human health and increasing the efficacy of disease therapies. The three winners were selected from a pool of nominees by an independent, international committee of renowned scientists.
Walt, Liu, and Artzi will be honored at a special dinner to be held Nov. 2 in Beverly Hills, California. The three will be featured speakers at Northwestern’s 2022 International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) Symposium on Oct. 27, 2022.
“The Kabiller Prize, Kabiller Young Investigator Award, and inaugural Kabiller Rising Star Award are made possible by David’s passion for supporting and encouraging innovation and excellence,” said Chad Mirkin, Ph.D., founding director of Northwestern’s IIN. “He is a visionary and a champion for critically important initiatives including the International Institute for Nanotechnology. We are honored to have these outstanding awards under our umbrella.” Mirkin is the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He was a member of the 2021 Kabiller Prize and Awards Selection Committee.
“Northwestern and the IIN are delighted to be the home of these prestigious awards,” said Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro. “We welcome these three outstanding scientists into the growing community of Kabiller prize and award recipients, whose innovations in nanoscience and nanomedicine are making meaningful impacts in the field.”
Among them, Walt is being recognized for the extraordinary impact of his transformational work on nanoscale optical sensors and sensor arrays, which have revolutionized modern medicine and provided practical solutions to urgent analytical problems in genetics, medical diagnostics, and environmental sensing.
“The prestige of the Kabiller Prize draws attention to nanoscience and nanomedicine, which have truly changed the world,” Walt said. “It is a true honor and thrill to be recognized for our contributions to these transformative fields.”
The technological impact of Walt’s work is apparent in the large number of his inventions that have been successfully transitioned to industries, including the microwell-based DNA array invention that is in part responsible for what has become the $70 billion company Illumina, Inc., and the single-molecule detection method known as Simoa, which forms the core technology of the $2.2 billion company Quanterix Corp. Walt is the scientific founder of Illumina and Quanterix and has co-founded several other life sciences startups.
As part of his roles at the Wyss Institute and Brigham, Walt also is the faculty lead of the Wyss DxA, which aims to enable the fast creation of diagnostic technologies to solve high-value clinical problems through deep collaborations between Wyss engineers, clinicians, and the diagnostics industry.
Walt’s own development of microwell-based DNA arrays for single-molecule detection and analysis has revolutionized the process of genetic sequencing and analysis, enabling the cost of DNA sequencing and genotyping to plummet nearly a millionfold in the last decade. This technology is now the gold standard for sequencing and genotyping in a wide variety of applications including screening embryos for genetic defects before in vitro fertilization, detecting cancer and identifying individuals’ metabolic profiles to ensure proper drug dosage. Walt’s laboratory also is investigating the limits of high-density microwell arrays for genetic and proteomic analysis based on single-molecule detection with unprecedented sensitivity to detect low-concentration biomarkers in blood. His lab is applying these new diagnostics tools and new biomarker assay technologies to the early detection of breast cancer, detection of active tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases, and prediction of immunotherapy response for cancer. This past year, Dr. Walt and his lab members have been deeply involved in developing new tools to understand and diagnose COVID-19.
Walt is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the National Academy of Inventors. In 2019, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He has received numerous national and international awards and honors, including the American Chemical Society Kathryn C. Hach Award for Entrepreneurial Success (2017), the Ralph Adams Award in Bioanalytical Chemistry (2016), and the American Chemical Society Gustavus John Esselen Award (2014).