Disruptive: Molecular Robotics – Building with DNA

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Timed Transcript

DISRUPTIVE Episode #5: MOLECULAR ROBOTICS

Terrence McNally:
Hello, I’m Terrence McNally and you’re listening to Disruptive, the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically-Inspired Engineering.

I thought I knew what DNA was. I knew it carried genetic information. I’d seen the picture of the double-helix at least a hundred times.

Imagine what it took for us to figure that out. And the shifts in perspective that that understanding made possible.

But we have taken our understanding of DNA to another level. We’re beginning to take advantage of some of the properties of DNA that have served nature so well – but in ways that nature may never have pursued.

We build with it. We tap its capacity to carry information to enhance our ability to see and to study molecular interactions and the inner life of cells.

As a medium for nano-scale engineering, DNA is smart, tough, flexible – and programmable. New methods in DNA self-assembly enable the precise engineering of nano-scale structures to produce revolutionary devices in computer science, microscopy, biology, and more.

I’m going to speak about this cutting-edge work with Wyss Institute core faculty members William Shih and Peng Yin and associate faculty member Wesley Wong.

The mission of the Wyss Institute is to transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds.

Our bodies – and all living systems – accomplish tasks far more sophisticated and dynamic than any entity yet designed by humans.

By emulating nature’s principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss research develops innovative engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing.

William Shih is an associate professor in the Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School and the Department of Cancer Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He oversees an effort to apply synthetic biology approaches to the development of self-assembling DNA nano-structures and devices for use in biomedical applications. In 2008, Shih received a New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health.

[02:07] McNally:
Welcome, William Shih, to Disruptive.

Shih:
Thanks, happy to be here.

DISRUPTIVE DISRUPTIVE: CONFRONTING SEPSIS – Don Ingber and Mike Super

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Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

DISRUPTIVE: CONFRONTING SEPSIS

Terrence McNally interviews Don Ingber and Mike Super

[00:04] Hello, I’m Terrence McNally and you’re listening to DISRUPTIVE the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

The mission of the Wyss is to: Transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds.

Our bodies — and all living systems — accomplish tasks far more sophisticated and dynamic than any entity yet designed by humans. By emulating nature’s principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers develop innovative engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing.

 

They focus on technology development and its translation into products and therapies that will have an impact on the world in which we live. So the Wyss is not interested in making incremental improvements to existing materials and devices, but in shifting paradigms. In this episode of DISRUPTIVE, we will focus on: CONFRONTING SEPSIS

Sepsis is a bloodstream infection in which the body’s organs become inflamed and susceptible to failure. The leading cause of hospital deaths, sepsis kills at least eight million people worldwide each year.

It can be caused by 6 species of fungi and 1400 species of bacteria. Diagnosis takes two to five days, and every hour you wait can increase the risk of death by 5-9%. The treatment challenge grows more complex as the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria increases while the development of new antibiotics lags.

“Even with the best current treatments, sepsis patients are dying in intensive care units at least 30% of the time,” says one of today’s guests, Wyss Senior Staff Scientist Mike Super.

A new device developed by a team at Wyss and inspired by the human spleen may radically transform the way we treat sepsis. Their blood-cleansing approach can be administered quickly, even without identifying the infectious agent. In animal studies, treatment with this device reduced the number of targeted pathogens and toxins circulating in the bloodstream by more than 99%.

Although we focus here on treatment of sepsis, the same technology could in the future be used for other applications, including removing microbial contaminants from circulating water, food or pharmaceutical products.

Now let’s explore the development process with Mike Super and Wyss Founding Director, Don Ingber.

[02:25] Ingber leads the Biomimetic Microsystems platform at Wyss in which micro-fabrication techniques from the computer industry are used to build functional circuits with living cells as components. He’s authored more than 400 publications and over 100 patents.

[02:40]

The seeds of Wyss’s therapeutic sepsis device go back over twenty years. I ask Don to talk about some of the earlier explorations and findings that laid the foundations for the current work.

Ingber:

[02:51] I was interested in mechanics and biology, this idea that mechanical forces are as important as chemicals and genes, and that the shape of the cell is important. To get at testing that, I come up with the idea of using little magnetic particles that I would coat with molecules that would bind to specific receptors on cells.

DISRUPTIVE: BIOINSPIRED ROBOTICS Radhika Nagpal

 

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DISRUPTIVE: BIOINSPIRED ROBOTICS
RADHIKA NAGPAL

Host Terrence McNally interviews Radhika Nagpal. Podcast published July 27, 2015.

McNally:
Hello, welcome to DISRUPTIVE the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering. I’m your host, Terrence McNally.

The mission of the Wyss Institute is to: Transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds.

Our bodies — and all living systems — accomplish tasks far more sophisticated and dynamic than anything yet designed by humans. By emulating nature’s principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers develop innovative engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing.

They focus on technology development and its translation into products and therapies that will have an impact on the world in which we live. At the Wyss, folks are not interested in making incremental improvements to existing materials and devices, but in shifting paradigms. In this episode of DISRUPTIVE, we will explore: BIOINSPIRED ROBOTICS.

Many of the most advanced robots in use today are still far less sophisticated than ants that “self-organize” to build an ant hill, or termites that work together to build impressive, massive mounds in Africa.

From insects in your backyard, to creatures in the sea, to what you see in the mirror, engineers and scientists at Wyss are drawing inspiration to design a whole new class of smart robotic devices.

We’re going to explore this exciting territory in a three-part episode of DISRUPTIVE, featuring three members of the Wyss faculty, CONOR WALSH, ROBERT WOOD, and RADHIKA NAGPAL.

[01:30]
Nagpal’s Bio

Today’s guest, Radhika Nagpal is the Fred Kavli Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Bioinspired Robotics Platform Co-Leader and a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute. Naming her one of the ten scientists and engineers who “made a difference” in 2014, NATURE Magazine wrote that her “self–organizing, swarm robotics are today’s state of the art in collective artificial intelligence.”

Radhika is developing programming paradigms that enable new types of autonomous robotic systems to mimic the collective behaviors of living creatures to meet real-world challenges. Inspired by social insects and multicellular systems, she’s developing sensor networks that monitor the environment, and robots that collectively construct or self-assemble complex structures without human supervision. Her recent work includes the Termes robots for collective construction of 3D structures, and the Kilobot thousand-robot swarm.

Welcome, Radhika Nagpal to DISRUPTIVE…In order for listeners to get a sense of you as a person, beyond your work and ideas, Rahdika, can you take us back and tell us a bit about your path?

[02:37]
Nagpal’s Path

DISRUPTIVE: BIOINSPIRED ROBOTICS CONOR WALSH

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DISRUPTIVE: BIOINSPIRED ROBOTICS

CONOR WALSH

Host Terrence McNally interviews Conor Walsh. Podcast published July 27, 2015.
McNally:
Hello, welcome to DISRUPTIVE the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering. I’m your host, Terrence McNally.

The mission of the Wyss Institute is to: Transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds.

Our bodies — and all living systems — accomplish tasks far more sophisticated and dynamic than anything yet designed by humans. By emulating nature’s principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers develop innovative engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing.

They focus on technology development and its translation into products and therapies that will have an impact on the world in which we live. At the Wyss, folks are not interested in making incremental improvements to existing materials and devices, but in shifting paradigms. In this episode of DISRUPTIVE, we will explore: BIOINSPIRED ROBOTICS.

Many of the most advanced robots in use today are still far less sophisticated than ants that “self-organize” to build an ant hill, or termites that work together to build impressive, massive mounds in Africa. From insects in your backyard, to creatures in the sea, to what you see in the mirror, engineers and scientists at Wyss are drawing inspiration to design a whole new class of smart robotic devices.

We’re going to explore this exciting territory in a three-part episode of DISRUPTIVE, featuring three members of the Wyss faculty, CONOR WALSH, ROBERT WOOD, and RADHIKA NAGPAL.

Walsh’s Bio
Today’s guest, CONOR WALSH is Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab, and a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute. His research focuses on applying disruptive technologies to the development of robotic devices for augmenting and restoring human performance. He leads a team of researchers on the DARPA Warrior Web project whose long term goal is to develop fully portable wearable robots to assist the disabled and able-bodied.
Conor received his B.A.I and B.A. degrees in Mechanical and Manufacturing engineering from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. He has been the recipient of over a dozen invention, entrepreneurship, and student mentoring awards including the MIT $100K business plan competition and the MIT Graduate Student Mentor of the Year. Walsh established the Harvard Medical Device Innovation Initiative that provides students with the opportunity to collaborate with clinicians.

Welcome, Conor Walsh to DISRUPTIVE…I like listeners to get a feel for the people behind the work and ideas we talk about. Could you share a bit about your personal path?

[02:40]

Walsh’s Personal Path

DISRUPTIVE: BIOINSPIRED ROBOTICS ROBERT WOOD

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DISRUPTIVE: BIOINSPIRED ROBOTICS

ROBERT WOOD

 

Host Terrence McNally interviews Robert Wood. Podcast published July 27, 2015.
McNally:
Hello, welcome to DISRUPTIVE the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering. I’m your host, Terrence McNally.

The mission of the Wyss Institute is to: Transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds.

Our bodies — and all living systems — accomplish tasks far more sophisticated and dynamic than anything yet designed by humans. By emulating nature’s principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers develop innovative engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing.

They focus on technology development and its translation into products and therapies that will have an impact on the world in which we live. At the Wyss, folks are not interested in making incremental improvements to existing materials and devices, but in shifting paradigms. In this episode of DISRUPTIVE, we will explore: BIOINSPIRED ROBOTICS.

Many of the most advanced robots in use today are still far less sophisticated than ants that “self-organize” to build an ant hill, or termites that work together to build impressive, massive mounds in Africa.

From insects in your backyard, to creatures in the sea, to what you see in the mirror, engineers and scientists at Wyss are drawing inspiration to design a whole new class of smart robotic devices.

We’re going to explore this exciting territory in a three-part episode of DISRUPTIVE, featuring three members of the Wyss faculty, CONOR WALSH, ROBERT WOOD, and RADHIKA NAGPAL.

Wood’s Bio
Today’s guest, ROBERT WOOD is the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences in the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, founder of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, a founding core faculty member of the Wyss Institute, and co-leader of its Bioinspired Robotics platform. Wood completed his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley.

In 2010, Wood received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Obama for his work in micro-robotics and in 2012 was selected for the Alan T. Waterman award, the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious early career award.

Welcome, Robert Wood to DISRUPTIVE…I mentioned a few biographical highlights, but before we jump into your work, in your own words, can you tell us a bit about your path?

[02:20]
Wood’s Personal Path