Disruptive#6: Rapid, Low-cost, Paper-based Test for Zika

Written on June 24th, 2016

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In early May, a rapid, low-cost, freeze-dried, paper-based, strain-specific diagnostic system for detection of the Zika virus was introduced by an international team of researchers led by James Collins of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. The core of the test kit is a piece of paper that changes color in the presence of Zika virus RNA and produces results in two to three hours. University of Toronto biochemist Keith Pardee says that it should cost less than a dollar per test. And, according to Collins, in response to a new outbreak, a custom tailored diagnostic system could be ready for use within one week’s time.
In this 53-minute podcast, I speak with Collins and Pardee, and explore how they did it, what they learned, and what this might mean for the future. Listen and subscribe to Disruptive on SoundcloudiTunes, or Google Play.

http://wyss.harvard.edu

Disruptive #6 Transcript

 

Disruptive#6: Rapid, Low-cost, Paper-based Test for Zika

Written on June 24th, 2016

Disruptive-Zika-email-600x204

McNally:
Hello, I’m Terrence McNally and you’re listening to Disruptive, the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for biologically inspired engineering. In early May, a low cost, rapid, paper-based diagnostic system for strain specific detection of the Zika virus was introduced by an international consortium of researchers led by synthetic biologist James Collins with the goal that it could soon be used in the field to screen blood, urine or saliva samples.

The core of the test kit is a piece of paper that changes color in the presence of Zika virus RNA and produces results in two to three hours. Much faster and cheaper than the PCR test used now according to Collins, a Wyss core faculty member – and it should cost less than a dollar per test adds University of Toronto biochemist Keith Pardee.

I’m going to speak with both of them about the real time story of a crisis
inciting innovation. How a team from a number of different institutions came together, and in a matter of six weeks developed a new approach to detection and designed a system to deploy in the face of future pandemics. Collins says, in response to an emerging outbreak, a custom tailored diagnostic system could be ready for use within one week’s time. We’ll explore how they did it, what they’ve learned and what this might mean for the future.

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 researchers develop innovative engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics and manufacturing.

In addition to leading the Living Cellular Devices and cellular devices platform at the Wyss, Jim Collins is the Termeer professor of medical engineering and science and professor of biological engineering at MIT. He’s a member of the Harvard MIT health sciences and technology faculty and an institute member of the Broad Instiute of MIT and Harvard.

Collins received a BA in physics from Holy Cross and a PHD in medical engineering from Oxford. A Rhodes Scholar, a MacArthur Fellow and a winner of the National Institutes of Health Directors Pioneer Award. Jim is one of the founders of synthetic biology as well as a pioneering researcher in systems biology and his engineering ranges from the physical scale of wearable medical devices to that of molecules.

Collins says he found early inspiration both in the space program and much closer to home.

Collins: [02:38]
I was born and grew up initially in New York City. My dad was an electrical engineer who had worked in the aviation industry so he did work for NASA, he did work for the military, he did work for a number of companies building planes. My mom was a math teacher.

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Written on April 29th, 2016

If you’re working to build a healthy and just society,
let me help you tap the power of narrative.

pointing-reversedI draw on my experience teaching, acting, producing, screenwriting, and interviewing to help you tell more compelling stories. Listen here. For 20 years, my interviews have sought A World That Just Might Work, I also produce & host the podcast Disruptive for Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.radio10 Let’s explore how we might work together.

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Disruptive: Synthetic Biology Pamela Silver & George Church

Written on February 21st, 2016

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I’m excited to offer the first episode of DISRUPTIVE, my new monthly podcast series produced with Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. The mission of the Wyss Institute is to: Transform healthcare, industry, and the environment by emulating the way nature builds, with a focus on technology development and its translation into products and therapies that will have an impact on the world in which we live. Their work is disruptive not only in terms of science but also in how they stretch the usual boundaries of academia.

In this inaugural episode, Wyss core faculty members Pamela Silver and George Church explain how, with today’s technology breakthroughs, modifications to an organism’s genome can be conducted more cheaply, efficiently, and effectively than ever before. Researchers are programming microbes to treat wastewater, generate electricity, manufacture jet fuel, create hemoglobin, and fabricate new drugs. What sounds like science fiction to most of us might be a reality in our lifetimes: the ability to build diagnostic tools that live within our bodies, find ways to eradicate malaria from mosquito lines, or possibly even make genetic improvements in humans that are passed down to future generations. Silver and Church discuss both the high-impact benefits of their work as well as their commitment to the prevention of unintended consequences in this new age of genetic engineering.

http://wyss.harvard.edu/

 

Disruptive: Cancer Vaccine & Hydrogel Drug Delivery

Written on December 5th, 2015

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Welcome to DISRUPTIVE the podcast from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

In this episode of DISRUPTIVE, we will focus on a cancer vaccine and hydrogel drug depots – both being developed by Wyss Founding Core Faculty Member, DAVE MOONEY. Mooney says the human immune system is the most efficient weapon on the planet to fight disease. Cancer, however, resists treatment and cure by evading the immune system. Unlike bacterial cells or viruses, cancer cells belong in the body, but are simply mutated and misplaced. Scientists have been trying to develop vaccines that provoke the immune system to recognize cancer cells as foreign and attack them. The approach developed by Mooney’s group, in which they reprogram immune cells from inside the body using implantable biomaterials, appears simpler and more effective than other cancer vaccines currently in clinical trials. In one study, 50% of mice treated with two doses of the vaccine — mice that would have otherwise died from melanoma within about 25 days — showed complete tumor regression. On a second front, when it comes to delivering drugs or protein-based therapeutics, doctors often give patients pills or inject the drug into their bloodstream. Both are inefficient methods for delivering effective doses to targeted tissues. Mooney and his team at Wyss are taking a new approach using biocompatible and biodegradable hydrogels. They’ve developed a gel-based sponge that can be molded to any shape, loaded with drugs or stem cells, compressed to a fraction of its size, and delivered via injection. Once inside the body, it pops back to its original shape, gradually releases its payload, and safely degrades. After we explore both of these exciting projects with Mooney, we take a closer look at the process of translation of hydrogel technology into products and therapies with Chris Gemmiti, a business development lead at Wyss.

http://wyss.harvard.edu