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Peng Yin of Harvard’s Wyss Institute Receives NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

Winning project seeks to advance tools for biomedical research

Peng Yin

BOSTON, Mass. — Peng Yin, Ph.D., a core member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard and an assistant professor in the Systems Biology Department at Harvard Medical School, has received a National Institutes for Health Director’s New Innovator Award. The award, which was announced today, supports highly innovative research by promising new investigators.

“NIH is pleased to be supporting early-stage investigators from across the country who are taking considered risks in a wide range of areas in order to accelerate research,” said Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the NIH. “We look forward to the results of their work.”

Dr. Yin’s project proposes to develop new self-assembling nanotechologies to transform biological and medical imaging.   Imaging probes translate a cell’s invisible biological information, such as proteins or RNA molecules, into detectable signals, such as changes in light.

The information provided by these imaging probes helps researchers better understand the role of cell behavior in the onset and progression of diseases, such as cancer, both in cultured cells and inside our bodies.

Dr. Yin is proposing to develop a novel type of imaging probe based on “triggered” molecular geometry. Such a probe would assemble itself into a prescribed 3D geometric shape upon detecting a target molecule that is readily identifiable. The new method could enable simultaneous imaging of many different types of molecules in a single cell, thus providing researchers with a richer, more accurate view of cell behavior than is possible using current techniques.

“The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award will allow my group to undertake an ambitious research plan,” says Dr. Yin. “Working in the highly stimulating environment of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, we hope to advance the vision of engineering programmable molecular systems to provide tools for addressing important biomedical challenges.”

As a key member of the Wyss Institute’s Programmable Nanomaterials and Biomaterials Evolution Platforms, Dr. Yin’s work focuses on engineering self-assembly of nucleic acid (DNA/RNA) structures and devices, and on exploiting such systems to do useful molecular work, such as probing and programming biological processes for imaging and therapeutic applications.

The Wyss Institute was founded in 2009 with a $125 million gift — the largest philanthropic gift in Harvard’s history — from Hansjorg Wyss. It is dedicated to the emerging field of biologically inspired engineering in which insights into the design principles used by nature are applied to the development of bioinspired materials and devices for medicine, industry and the environment.

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