Harvard University has announced a five-year, $125 million gift - the largest in its history — from alumnus Hansjörg Wyss to create an institute for biologically inspired engineering. The institute will be a joint project of Harvard's medical school and its school of engineering and applied sciences (SEAS).
The gift will fund the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, part of a new science complex in Allston that will also house the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, the university's stem cell and regenerative biology department, and the medical school's systems biology department. According to Harvard president Drew G. Faust, the institute will function as a cross-unit collaboration and will engage faculty from both the medical school and SEAS. There may also be opportunities to collaborate with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University.
Identified five years ago as an important priority for the university, bioengineering is becoming one of the fastest growing concentrations in the United States, even though federal funding for it has effectively been frozen. Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of the medical school, said the gift from Wyss would fuel a significant increase in bioengineering activity at Harvard, but that the gift by itself would not fulfill the university's aspirations in the field.
In the past, bioengineering focused on the application of engineering principles to solve problems in medicine. While the approach has been fruitful, the field of the future, as envisioned by Wyss Institute director Donald Ingber and his colleagues, will break down the boundaries between living and non-living systems, paving the way for new engineering principles, technologies, and products. "The institute will almost be like a research and development start-up in an academic environment," said Ingber. "It will be very different from what has been done at Harvard in past years."