AM in the time of COVID-19Research & Education

Harvard’s Wyss Institute supports COVID-19 efforts with diagnostic, prevention and treatment solutions

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While many departments at Harvard University are quiet and empty these days, some, like the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, are still open and active, helping to develop solutions for diagnosing and treating COVID-19. Researchers from the Wyss Institute are working on a number of initiatives which are already helping medical frontline workers.

Researchers from the Wyss Institute have been working closely with hospital partner institutions and government agencies to support a number of projects. For instance, a team led by Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., is working with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Harvard-affiliated hospitals and corporate partners to develop nasopharyngeal swabs and N95 face masks, both of which are in short supply.

The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) is playing an important role in the development of 3D printed nasal swabs, collaborating with 3D printing companies such as Carbon and HP to evaluate different swab designs. The collaborative projects are part of an open-source effort the center launched to address the shortage of test swabs around the globe. Ramy Arnaout, MD, DPhil, Associate Director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratories at BIDMC, has coordinated the effort and established a three-step protocol for evaluating the swabs. Considering that Carbon today announced it would begin producing over 1 million lattice swabs a week for COVID-19 testing, it seems the validation phase led by BIDMC in cooperation with the Harvard Wyss Institute was a success.

Wyss Institute Covid-19 response
A small team of dedicated researchers continue their work at the Wyss Institute’s labs (Photo: Wyss Institute at Harvard University)

In another project, core faculty member Jennifer Lewis, Sc.D and Wyss Senior Research Scientist James Weaver, Ph.D are leading the Face Shield Working Group within the Mass General Brigham health system to help design and validate face shields for healthcare workers. This working group has evaluated both 3D printed and die cut face shield designs and is now prototyping and testing a final design. When approved, the face shield will be prepped for mass production.

“With our highly multi-disciplinary and translation-focused organization, we were able to quickly pivot, and refocus our unique engineering capabilities on much needed diagnostic, therapeutic and vaccine solutions, and we hope to be part of the solution for many of the innumerable problems the present pandemic poses,” commented Ingber, the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, and Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “We strive to make a major contribution to bringing this crisis under control, and are confident that what we accomplish under duress now will help prevent future epidemics.”

Wyss Institute Covid-19 response
Sherlock Biosciences’ INSPECTR device uses synthetic biology to convert CoV2 virus RNA into a visible signal (Photo: Wyss Institute at Harvard University)

In addition to these efforts, Wyss Insitute members are also exploring the development of new COVID-19 diagnostic processes, which would not rely on PCR-based tests. One team led by core faculty member Peng Yin, D. and senior staff scientist Thomas Schaus, M.D., Ph.D. is developing a disposable test which uses a lateral flow device (LFD), similar to a home pregnancy test, to detect the novel coronavirus. Another project is investigating the potential of using Wyss spin-out Sherlock biosciences’ INSPECTR technology to detect CoV2 RNA. A number of other scalable testing methods for COVID-19 are also being developed or explored.

In addition to diagnostic solutions, Wyss Institute researchers are also investigating possible treatment avenues, leveraging organ-on-a-chip in vitro human emulation technology to test existing drugs on a CoV2 pseudovirus. Another team from the institute’s Immuno-Materials Focus Area is developing a possible vaccine for the virus. You can see the institute’s full COVID-19 response here.

To maintain the safety of its researchers and faculty, the Wyss Institute is implementing several measures. When possible, researchers are working from home, and those that come into the labs wear PPE and are practicing COVID-19 prevention tactics. “I am extremely proud of how quickly the Wyss Institute has come together to fight COVID-19 in such a short period of time,” said Ingber. “It all pulled together over one weekend. All of the teams are deploying their unique skills and approaches to fight this virus in a highly interdisciplinary and openly collaborative way, and I am confident that our contributions will help bring this pandemic to an end.”

We at 3dpbm simply want to say thank you to the researchers at the Wyss Institute, as well as to all of the people around the globe that are continuing their work and contributing to the fight against the coronavirus.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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