London's Design Museum Presents Design of the Year 2015 Award to Wyss Institute's Human Organs-on-Chips

Human organs–on–chips, which have been awarded the Design of the Year 2015 Award by London's Design Museum, have the potential to deliver transformative changes to human health, drug discovery, drug testing, and personalized medicine, due to their accurate ability to emulate human–level organ functions. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

Human organs-on-chips designed by scientists at the Wyss Institute, Harvard University, have received the overall Design of the Year 2015 Award, the most prestigious design award in the UK.

The award was presented at the Design of the Year awards ceremony, which was held on June 22, 2015 at the Design Museum of London. This event marks the 8th annual awards and museum expo.

In addition to being named as the overall winner at the ceremony, the human organs–on–chips also won the Product design category. Other winners were also presented with awards which represented five more design categories such as Digital, Architecture, Graphics, Fashion, and Transport.

The human organs–on–chips could redefine drug testing, drug discovery, drug testing, personalized medicine, and human health because of their innate ability to imitate human organ–level functions. They are represented by the human gut, lung, and liver chips.

This winning design is a great example of how design is a collaborative practice embracing expertise and know how across disciplines.

Its selection as Design of the Year 2015 also signifies a desire to recognize and award design that can significantly impact society now and in the future.

Gemma Curtin
Designs of the Year 2015 Exhibition Curator

Category winners were chosen from a group of 76 nominees selected by leading practitioners, design experts, academics and curators to represent high-impact, cutting-edge, and the most novel designs.

Category winners included six finalists who were assessed for the overall design award by a jury presided by artist Anish Kapoor. Paola Antonelli, the Museum of Modern Art’s Senior Curator of Architecture & Design and Director of R&D, nominated the human organs–on–chips.

"This is the epitome of design innovation – elegantly beautiful form, arresting concept and pioneering application" said Antonelli.

Anthony Bahinski, Ph.D., MBA, FAHA, and a Senior Staff Scientist at Wyss Institute, contributed toward the technology’s development and translation. On behalf of Donald E. Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., Wyss Founding Director; and Dan Dongeun Huh, Ph.D., a former Wyss Technology Development Fellow, Bahinski received the Product and Design of the Year awards. Back in 2010, Huh had designed the preliminary human organ–on–a–chip.

In 2009, Ingber established the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering to design based on nature, new bio-inspired technologies, which enhance both human health and the environment. Ingber’s earliest scientific work resulted in the discovery of tensegrity architecture, which was initially described by sculptor Kenneth Snelson and architect Buckminster Fuller. Tensegrity is a basic design principle that governs the way biological systems are structured.

"This is an extremely meaningful moment, as the intersection of science and design has been a constant source of inspiration throughout my career. To have the microscopic elegance and function of human organs–on–chips recognized in an international design forum is a powerful testament to the breadth and depth at which design principles contribute to biological function as well as technological advancement, and it is a recognition for which I am deeply honored to receive on behalf of the Wyss Institute," said Ingber.

Since the initial design of the first organ–on–a–chip (lung–on–a–chip), a multidisciplinary team of Wyss researchers developed additional human organs–on–chips. The micro-devices can possibly bring transformative changes to human healthcare and pharmaceutical development. They could reduce the necessity for animal testing by offering a faster, less controversial, and less expensive ways for predicting whether novel drug compounds will be effective in human clinical trials. In order to translate the technology, Emulate, a startup company of the Wyss Institute was established in 2014 to market human organs–on–chips.

A novel micro-fabrication process is used for designing human organs–on–chips. This process was adapted from the computer chip sector, wherein photolithography is utilized to produce memory-stick-sized blocks of flexible and transparent rubber containing hollow microchannels. The microchannels are subsequently lined with blood capillary cells and living organ cells under the flow of fluid and maneuvered mechanically through vacuum–powered movements to simulate the movements of organs.

"One of the most important things about the Designs of the Year award is the chance that it gives the museum to explore new territory. The team of scientists that produced this remarkable object don’t come from a conventional design background. But what they have done is clearly a brilliant piece of design. They identified a serious problem – how do we predict how human cells will behave – and they solved it with elegance and economy of means, putting technology from apparently unrelated fields to work in new ways. They have perhaps unintentionally created something that for a lay man seems to symbolize the essence of life and also happens to be beautiful to look at," said Deyan Sudjic, the Director of the Design Museum.

Named as the Design of the Year 2015 Award, the human organs–on–chips become the new winner in the yearly award series. Along with 75 other overall 2015 nominees, the human organs–on–chips are on display at the Design Museum in London. This will remain open till March 31, 2016.

Winners of the 2015 design category are as follows:

  • Fashion: THOMAS TAIT AW13/14 by Thomas Tait
  • Digital: THE OCEAN CLEANUP by Boyan Slat, Jan de Sonneville PhD and Erwin Zwart
  • Product: HUMAN ORGANS-ON-CHIPS by Donald Ingber and Dan Dongeun Huh
  • Graphics: INGLORIOUS FRUITS & VEGETABLES by Marcel for Intermarché
  • Transport: GOOGLE SELF-DRIVING-CAR by YooJung Ahn, Jared Gross and Philipp Haban

Preceding winners of the Design of the Year awards are as follows:

  • 2014: Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid Architects
  • 2013: GOV.UK – UK Government website by GDS
  • 2012: London 2012 Olympic Torch by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby
  • 2011: Plumen 001 by Samuel Wilkinson and Hulger
  • 2010: Folding Plug by Min–Kyu Choi
  • 2009: Barack Obama Poster by Shepard Fairey
  • 2008: One Laptop Per Child by Yves Béha
Alessandro Pirolini

Written by

Alessandro Pirolini

Alessandro has a BEng (hons) in Material Science and Technology, specialising in Magnetic Materials, from the University of Birmingham. After graduating, he completed a brief spell working for an aerosol manufacturer and then pursued his love for skiing by becoming a Ski Rep in the Italian Dolomites for 5 months. Upon his return to the UK, Alessandro decided to use his knowledge of Material Science to secure a position within the Editorial Team at AZoNetwork. When not at work, Alessandro is often at Chill Factore, out on his road bike or watching Juventus win consecutive Italian league titles.


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