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Wyss Institute founder donates $125 million to Institute

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University announced that Hansjörg Wyss (Harvard MBA, '65), the entrepreneur and philanthropist who enabled the Institute's creation in 2009 with a $125 million gift, has donated a second $125 million gift to the university to further advance the Institute's pioneering work.

The Wyss Institute seeks to solve some of the world's most complex challenges in healthcare and the environment by drawing inspiration from Nature's design principles, according to the university. In addition to uncovering new knowledge about how nature builds, controls and manufactures, the Institute measures success in the ability of its faculty and staff to translate their discoveries into products that can have near-term impact.

Hansjorg Wyss

Hansjörg Wyss (Harvard MBA, ‘65), the entrepreneur and philanthropist who enabled the creation of the Wyss Institute in 2009 with a $125 million gift.

“Mr. Wyss is extraordinarily generous, and we are deeply grateful that he has expanded his support of multidisciplinary research at Harvard,” said Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard's president and Lincoln Professor of History, in a statement. “Through the Wyss Institute, we are realizing his vision—generating promising technologies and building partnerships that extend far beyond our campus. This additional gift will enable the Institute's continued success and create new opportunities to improve people’s lives and the world in which we live.”

The Institute has grown at a rapid pace since its founding in January 2009, and now includes more than 350 full-time staff located in 100,000 sq.-ft. of research space distributed between Harvard's Longwood Medical Campus and Cambridge sites. This burgeoning community includs scientists, biologists, physicists, chemists, engineers and clinicians with extensive experience in product development and team management across multiple industries. The work at the Institute ranges from early-stage exploration of new ideas to focused technology translation, with an emphasis on validating and de-risking technologies to enable their commercialization.

Wyss lab on a chip 2013

The lung-on-a-chip, shown here, is one of 10 organs-on-a-chip in development at the Wyss Institute.

"We wanted to create a place where the innovation and imagination of the world's best minds could work beyond disciplinary boundaries to deliver life-changing medicines and technologies that are inspired by Nature," said Wyss, in a statement. After graduating from Harvard Business School in 1965, Wyss started a successful medical research and design company whose products have helped millions of patients recover from skeletal and soft tissue trauma and injuries, according to the university. “I could not have dreamt of the Institute's remarkable discoveries thus far, and am proud and excited to help them continue to build, explore and improve lives.”

The Wyss Institute organizes its research priorities around six synergistic technology platforms: Bioinspired Robotics, Programmable Nanomaterials, Biomimetic Microsystems, Adaptive Material Technologies, Anticipatory Medical and Cellular Devices and Synthetic Biology. Examples of projects under way include:

  • The RoboBee, which is a tiny robot inspired by the biology of a fly that may be used in search and rescue missions or to carry out pollination and replace dying bee populations.
  • Human Organs-on-Chips, which are microchips lined by human cells that are poised to revolutionize drug development and environmental testing by replacing animal studies.

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Posted May 22, 2013.