Posted in | Nanomedicine | Nanobusiness

Alumnus' Gift to Advance the Field of Biologically Inspired Engineering

Engineer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss MBA '65 has given Harvard University $125 million to create the Hansjörg Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

A bioinspired robotic fly fabricated using microengineering. Images courtesy of Rob Wood

Investigators at the Wyss Institute (pronounced "Vees") will strive to uncover the engineering principles that govern living things, and use this knowledge to develop technology solutions for the most pressing healthcare and environmental issues facing humanity. Wyss' gift is the largest individual gift in the University's history.

"I am deeply grateful to Hansjörg Wyss for this gift, which will allow Harvard to make a transformational investment in powerful, collaborative science," said Harvard President and Lincoln Professor of History Drew Faust. "The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering will form the bedrock for Harvard's emerging efforts in this critical area and will affect research, teaching, and the training of future leaders in this field.

"We regard this gift as an enormous vote of confidence by a donor who is both extraordinarily generous and extraordinarily knowledgeable in this field," Faust continued. "This gift underscores Harvard's ability to lead and to make very significant contributions in a field that is of increasing importance to scientists in a number of areas, and to science more generally."

The Wyss Institute will be a collaborative enterprise bringing together experimentalists, theoreticians, and clinicians with expertise in engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, robotics, medicine, and surgery from Harvard's Schools and affiliated hospitals, as well as from neighboring universities.

The multidisciplinary effort will function as the cornerstone of Harvard's broader efforts in bioengineering, and will build on many elements of the Harvard Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, which was created with seed support from the Harvard University Science and Engineering Committee in response to a faculty-developed plan for this burgeoning discipline.

Wyss' gift will provide funds for seven endowed faculty positions, as well as major operating funds for the institute. The locus of the Wyss Institute will be in the first science complex currently under construction on Harvard's campus in the Allston neighborhood of Boston.

"I am humbled to have the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to efforts that I firmly believe will change the future course of science and medicine," Wyss said. "Little did I dream when I began my career in engineering that we would reach a point where engineers and biologists would be using nature's templates to create solutions to our medical and environmental challenges."

President Faust and Provost Steven E. Hyman, together with Dean Jeffrey Flier, Dean Michael Smith, and former Dean Venkatesh Narayanamurti — of the Harvard Medical School (HMS), Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), respectively — announced that Donald Ingber, Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston, and professor of bioengineering at SEAS, will serve as the Wyss Institute's founding director.

"Hansjörg Wyss' vision for the potential inherent in newly emerging areas of bioengineering will allow Harvard to integrate the worlds of biology and engineering to develop nontraditional solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges," said Hyman. "Don Ingber's leadership and commitment to exploring these possibilities will make this vision a reality."

Hyman noted that the establishment of the Wyss Institute follows Harvard's "commitment to the overall growth of engineering at Harvard — exemplified by changing the status of the former Division of Engineering to a School of Engineering — but in the context of a liberal arts-focused research institution. With respect to bioengineering in particular, we are at a wonderful intellectual inflection point where we're beginning to see a new generation of bioengineering in which I think no one has an advantage, and where we will provide very substantial intellectual partnerships for such activities as our Stem Cell Institute and for the Systems Biology activities. Those partnerships might, for example," he said, "enable us to convert new basic discoveries into a host of treatments for human beings suffering with illnesses."

In expressing his gratitude to Wyss, Ingber said that "Hansjörg Wyss is a visionary engineer and entrepreneur who understands that transformative change requires risk-taking and breaking down boundaries among existing disciplines. We are indebted to him for his generosity, which will enable engineers, scientists, physicians, and industrial collaborators to work across institutions and disciplines at a level never before possible in an academic setting."

David Mooney, Gordon McKay Professor of Bioengineering at SEAS and co-chair of Harvard's bioengineering working group, said, "I am particularly excited that this gift will allow us to create an interdisciplinary community of scholars who will work together to both develop novel technologies and create a foundation for bioengineering based on a fundamental knowledge of how living systems function."

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