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Wyss Technologies Top Harvard’s 2022 President’s Innovation Challenge

Prizes awarded to teams advancing Tough Gel Adhesive and Soft Robotic Glove technologies

(BOSTON) – Students and selected alumni competed over the course of seven months for a share of $510,000 in the 2022 Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge (PIC). On May 5, two teams won top prizes for technologies developed at the Wyss Institute. 

Tough gels for tough problems

Wyss Technologies Top Harvard’s 2022 President’s Innovation Challenge
The Limax Team at the President’s Innovation Challenge. Benjamin Freedman (center) holding President’s Innovation Challenge trophy with Daniel Kent, M.D., (left) who is a a Wyss Clinical Fellow and General Surgery Resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Neal Muni, M.D., M.S.P.H., (right) who is a Wyss Mentor. Credit: Benjamin Freedman.

Benjamin Freedman, Ph.D. and the Limax Biosciences team won the $75,000 first-place prize in the Health & Life Sciences Track for their Tough Gel Adhesives technology, which could be used to repair internal and external injuries without sutures. Freedman is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wyss Institute and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) in the lab of Wyss Founding Core Faculty member David Mooney, Ph.D. 

Existing wound dressings and sealants have weak tissue adhesion that result in leaks, tissue rigidity, and toxicity. Limax’s technology is a biodegradable, hydrogel-based material that addresses these limitations through strong and rapid adhesion to wet tissue surfaces at 10-100x higher strength than competitors. This patent-protected platform technology can be used in several indications throughout the body, including soft tissue reinforcement or repair and local drug delivery. 

In 2020, the Tough Gel Adhesive was licensed to Amend Surgical for dental applications. In 2022, the team led by Mooney, who is also the Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at SEAS, developed the “Janus Tough Adhesives” version of the technology that can act as high-capacity drug depots, slowly releasing small molecules into tissue to help facilitate healing. This work was done in collaboration with scientists at Novartis and published in Nature Biomedical Engineering. 

A soft robotic glove for stroke survivors

Wyss Technologies Top Harvard’s 2022 President’s Innovation Challenge
The co-founders of Imago Rehab, Wyss Lumineers Chrissy Glover (left) and Kristin Nuckols (right) are working to integrate the soft robotic glove into a complete telehealth solution for patients recovering from stroke and other neurological conditions. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

The $25,000 winner in the Alumni & Affiliates Open Track category is the team of Wyss Lumineers Chrissy Glover, M.Des, and Kristin Nuckols, OTD, OTR/L, who co-founded Imago Rehab in 2021. Imago Rehab is a robot-assisted virtual clinic that aims to restore hand function to stroke survivors. The underlying soft robotics Glove technology was developed in the lab of Conor Walsh, Ph.D. 

Walsh is an Associate Faculty member of the Wyss and the Paul A. Maeder Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS. 

There are five million chronic stroke survivors in the U.S. with lasting hand impairment. Imago’s wearable soft robotic glove facilitates daily, high-repetition hand rehab exercises, and their tele-rehab approach reduces travel burdens and allows greater access to care. This digital health solution could result in better outcomes and increased independence for stroke survivors. 

“Bringing people together from across the University — people of differing expertise and perspectives — and watching them put their knowledge to work is one of my favorite things about being president,” said Harvard University President Larry Bacow. “It makes me proud of this great institution and optimistic about its future — and the future of our world.” 

The PIC is hosted by the Harvard Innovation Labs (i-lab), which supports undergraduate and graduate students as well as select alumni, in advancing innovation and entrepreneurship. The prize money is provided courtesy of the Bertarelli Foundation.

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