Nearly a million Americans suffer strokes annually, and 80 percent of them lose the ability to use one of their legs normally. Even after undergoing physical therapy, many patients never regain a normal walking gait, grow more prone to falls, and become more sedentary. Wearable “exoskeletons” are being developed to provide support during walking and rehabilitation, but these devices are large, hard, and expensive, limiting their use. Working in the Institute’s bioinspired soft robotics platform, Wyss researchers in the lab of Conor Walsh, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS, have created a light, soft, fabric-based “exosuit” that applies assistive force to correct patients’ gait during walking and can be worn during normal daily activities. The exosuit was licensed in 2016 by ReWalk Robotics, which is commercializing it for stroke and multiple sclerosis patients.
Today, a decade after Wyss founded the Institute, 375 full-time staff collaborate and work in 100,000 square feet of research space shared between Harvard’s Longwood Medical Campus and Cambridge sites. The community of scientists, biologists, physicists, chemists, engineers, and clinicians includes 18 core faculty, 16 associate faculty, and numerous students, postdocs, and fellows, as well as more than 25 scientists and engineers recruited from industry with extensive experience in product development and team management across multiple disciplines and fields. In addition to their technology commercialization efforts, Wyss Institute faculty and staff have published more than 2,000 scientific articles, with an average of one paper in Scienceor Natureper month since 2009.
“From developing singular insights and cutting-edge approaches to creating bioinspired materials and feats of engineering, the Wyss Institute has and will continue to have a powerful impact,” said Harvard University Provost Alan Garber. “Through the many technologies it creates as well as the partnerships it has cultivated, the institute shines a light on the convening power of Harvard and the creative brilliance of its faculty and staff. We are truly grateful for Mr. Wyss’ generosity and for placing his trust in Harvard.”
Garber emphasized the Institute’s alliances with all of the University’s Schools, as well as with other leading academic and clinical institutions in the Boston area and around the world. This collaboration and the bridges it has built between academia and industry have been key to the institute’s ability to accelerate the development of novel diagnostics, therapeutics, and other disruptive technologies.
“The Wyss Institute exists because of Hansjörg Wyss’ vision that crossing disciplinary boundaries and collaborating across both different scientific fields and different research institutions is crucial for bringing about transformative change,” said Ingber, who is also a professor of bioengineering at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “We are honored and humbled by Mr. Wyss’ continued generosity, and we will continue to strive to push the envelope in both technology innovation and translation of these technologies into products that can bring about near-term positive change worldwide.”
A native of Switzerland, Wyss is a philanthropist dedicated to helping save the world’s remaining wild places, protecting and empowering society’s most vulnerable, and encouraging breakthroughs in medicine and science. His philanthropy is made possible by his success in starting and growing a medical research and design company, Pennsylvania-based Synthes USA, whose products have helped millions of patients recover from skeletal and soft-tissue trauma and injuries.
Today’s gift is being made through the Wyss Foundation, created in 1998 and known for helping to protect some of the world’s most iconic landscapes — from Montana’s Crown of the Continent to the headwaters of the Amazon River in the Andes Mountains — and ensuring they remain open and accessible to all. Altogether, the Wyss Foundation has invested more than $450 million to help local communities, land trusts, and nonprofit partners conserve more than 40 million acres of land in North America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and South America. Last fall, in a New York Times op-ed, Wyss announced he would donate $1 billion over the next decade to help conserve at least 30 percent of the planet in a natural state by 2030.