The three distinguished scientists complement the Institute in areas ranging from tissue engineering and devices for cardiac repair to advanced diagnostic and sustainable technologies
By Benjamin Boettner
(BOSTON) — Christopher Chen, M.D., Ph.D. has had a long and prolific past at the Wyss Institute and its 3D Organ Engineering Initiative as an Associate Faculty member, and based on his deep commitment to the Institute and its translational mission, he has now been promoted to become one of the Institute’s 12 Core Faculty members. The Wyss Institute is also excited to welcome Ellen Roche, Ph.D., and Michael Springer, Ph.D., as newly appointed Associate Faculty members. Their individual journeys have intersected with the Wyss Institute at various stages of their careers, and their arrival promises to enrich the Institute with their unique perspectives and expertise. By embracing the Wyss’ highly collaborative culture, they are poised to make important contributions that will advance the Institute’s mission to improve healthcare and advance sustainability around the globe.
Christopher Chen is the William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor at Boston University (BU), Director of BU’s Tissue Microfabrication Laboratory, Founding Director of the Biological Design Center at BU, and a Paul G. Allen Distinguished Investigator. As a Wyss Associate Faculty member, Chris was the co-founder of the Institute’s 3D Organ Engineering Initiative together with Core Faculty member Jennifer Lewis, Sc.D. His group is developing new approaches to engineer tissues and organs as effective therapeutics, with a particular focus on enabling their vascularization and growth. He is also studying human pathologies in which blood vessels fail, and he is pursuing molecular therapeutic strategies for their repair. His important accomplishments over many years have infused these research areas with novel fundamental research and translational perspectives and allowed them to progress in entirely new directions.
“My group’s interests and goals resonate on multiple levels with the Wyss Institute’s vision. We’ve experienced this through our technology development and translation work in the Wyss’ 3D Organ Engineering Initiative, as well as through ongoing collaborations in the most exciting ways. I’m thrilled about my new role at the Institute,” said Chen.
In his approaches to tissue engineering and repair, Chen investigates the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which cells physically interact with materials and each other to identify new ways to build vascularized tissues from stem cells and other components to understand and treat different diseases, including cancer. Chen has also extensively collaborated with Wyss Associate Faculty member Sangeeta Bhatia, M.D., Ph.D. on the engineering of human liver tissue for different in vitro and in vivo applications, including the modeling of disease, and drug testing and delivery. Their two groups are currently developing a new therapeutic to treat the build-up of fluid in the lymphatic system known as lymphedema, which they are actively attempting to spin out as a new startup through support from Wyss Institute Project funding.
After receiving his Ph.D. in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics from the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program, and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School (HMS), Chen became Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University. He then was appointed as the Skirkanich Professor of Innovation and Founding Director of the Center for Engineering Cells and Regeneration at the University of Pennsylvania before he joined BU in 2013. Chen has received multiple accolades including the Mary Hulman George Award for Biomedical Research, Herbert W. Dickerman Award For Outstanding Contribution to Science, and Robert A. Pritzker Award. Among multiple active memberships, he also is an elected fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.
Newly appointed Associate Faculty member Ellen Roche is the Latham Family Career Development Professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science at MIT where she also directs the Therapeutic Design and Development Lab. In her research, she focuses on the development of innovative devices that enable the repair of damage to the heart or improve its function. She has made pioneering contributions to the fields of biomechanics, medical device design, soft robotics and materials, and other areas of biomedical engineering.
Roche performed her Ph.D. work at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute where she was advised by Wyss Faculty members Conor Walsh, Ph.D., and David Mooney, Ph.D. During her doctoral work, she innovated the epicardial delivery of bioagents to the heart, the mechanical assistance of ventricular contraction using a soft robotic sleeve, and a catheter-based device for the repair of tissue defects within the heart. In 2015, she joined the MIT as Assistant Professor.
“I am excited to return to the Wyss, having experienced firsthand the incredible support, expertise and infrastructure that the Institute has in place to support its impressive track-record of technology translation, and look forward to bringing ongoing collaborations to fruition as well as embarking on new ones,” said Roche, who has been involved in a collaboration with Wyss Faculty member Jennifer Lewis, Sc.D. on a polymeric occluder device that can prevent strokes by closing dangerous holes and leaks in the heart.
Roche has received multiple awards for her exceptional work, including a Wellcome Trust Seed Award in Science, National Science Foundation CAREER Award, NIH Trailblazer Award, Hood Award for Excellence in Child Health Research, and the Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award.
Associate Faculty member Michael Springer is a Professor in the Department of Systems Biology at HMS, co-director of HIVE, an environmentally focused synthetic biology institute at HMS founded by Wyss Core Faculty member Pamela Silver, Ph.D., and an Associate Member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.
Studying microbial organisms, he has made seminal contributions to the fields of cellular homeostasis, fitness, and adaptation, and has studied how these are affected by genetic variation, key molecular regulators, and quantitative processes. Springer was awarded his Ph.D. in the field of cell biology at University of California San Francisco, and was a Helen Hay Whitney Post-Doctoral Fellow at HMS’s Department of Systems Biology before he joined the Department as an Assistant Professor in 2009.
Currently, his research addresses formidable problems in two major areas: unmet diagnostic needs and the sustainable production of resources and commodities. Springer is developing broadly accessible and affordable medical device solutions for collecting diagnostic samples in at-home settings. His work also aims to streamline the workflow in clinical diagnostics labs to increase the throughput as well as decrease the costs of diagnostic testing.
“Being able to work with the Wyss Institute’s bioengineering community will allow us to bring all the tools to the table to take on some of the biggest diagnostic and environmental challenges facing the world today, and I look forward to working with the Institute’s world-class faculty and staff,” said Springer.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, he developed a novel sample collection technology in collaboration with former Wyss Lead Staff Engineer Richard Novak, Ph.D., and Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. To help overcome the pandemic’s diagnostic bottleneck, he designed a high-throughput COVID-19 testing lab, obtained emergency use authorization (EUA) for the technology, and spearheaded the formation of the first CLIA-certified lab at Harvard, which handled over 2.2 million COVID-19 tests in its year of operation. For his work in the response to COVID-19, Springer was recently awarded the George Ledlie Prize. He and Novak co-founded Rhinostics, a startup spun out of the Wyss to enable their technology to enter the diagnostic market. In his other research focus, Springer’s group is engineering microbes to advance carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere, sustainable local food and commodity production, and the biomining of minerals.
“With the promotion of Chris Chen to a Wyss Core Faculty position, and the addition of Ellen Roche and Michael Springer to our faculty ranks, we will be able to collaboratively take on some of the most pressing challenges facing our society in health care and sustainability that need actionable solutions now. Their collective experience and accomplishments will serve to further complement the strengths and expertise of our bioengineering community to even more effectively bring about positive near-term impact,” said Wyss Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Bioinspired Engineering at SEAS.