Biological Engineer to Describe Effort to Develop “Organs on Chips”

Donald E. Ingber


A founder of the emerging field of biologically inspired engineering will deliver a state-of-the-art lecture about “Human Organs on Chips,” on Sunday, Nov. 8.

Donald E. Ingber, MD, PhD, is the founding director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, and professor of bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

At the Wyss Institute, Dr. Ingber oversees a multifaceted effort to identify the mechanisms that organisms use to self-assemble from molecules and cells and to apply these design principles to develop advanced materials and devices for healthcare. He also leads the biomimetic microsystems platform in which microfabrication techniques from the computer industry are used to build functional circuits with living cells as components.

His most recent innovation is a technology for building tiny, complex, three-dimensional models of living human organs, or “organs on chips,” that mimic complicated human functions as a way to replace traditional animal-based methods for testing drugs and establishing human disease models. Each organ-on-chip is the size of a memory stick and contains human cells and mimics the blood vessels and tissues of living organs. The chip is a clear flexible polymer that contains hollow microfluidic channels lined by living human cells. Because the microdevices are translucent, they provide a window into the inner workings of human organs. The Wyss Institute team seeks to build 10 different human organs-on-chips and link them together on an automated instrument to mimic whole-body physiology.

The goal is to replace the cell cultures in Petri dishes and animal models used to understand how a human body may react to a drug, toxin, or disease with an instrument that will control fluid flow and cell viability while permitting real-time observation of the cultured tissues and analysis of complex biochemical functions. It could be used, for example, to rapidly assess responses to new drug candidates with information on their safety and efficacy.

In addition to this work, Dr. Ingber has made major contributions to mechanobiology, tissue engineering, tumor angiogenesis, systems biology, nanobiotechnology, and translational medicine. He has authored more than 400 publications and holds 100 patents.

He has received numerous honors including the Holst Medal from the royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science, Pritzker Award from the Biomedical Engineering Society, Rous-Whipple Award from the American Society for Investigative Pathology, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of In Vitro Biology, Department of Defense Breast Cancer Innovator Award, and Graeme Clark Oration Award.

He received his BA, MA, MPhil, MD, and PhD from Yale University.