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Ahead of the Pack

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While a grad student at Harvard, researcher Omar Ali built a prototype of a cancer vaccine, says the Boston Globe's Carolyn Johnson. When he tested the prototype on mice, Ali saw that it prevented melanoma in the rodents, and was excited to try it on humans. But as he continued to test his invention, Ali saw no clear way to develop it further and get it to the stage where he could begin testing on humans — until he joined the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. "The institute works to bridge the gap between promising basic research advances and the robotic technologies, drugs, novel building materials, or medical devices that change the world," Johnson says. Ali is now working with Harvard bioengineers and researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to move toward a clinical trial for his technology, she adds. Ali's vaccine is an example of the way Wyss works — "using engineering techniques that mimic nature" in order to take research beyond what can happen in an academic lab, Johnson says. The institute takes risks on new technology, and takes a cross-disciplinary approach to research by bringing together researchers from many different fields to work together. Though Wyss researchers work on much more than treatments for cancer, the approach they take could lead to more innovative technologies being tested or used in the clinic, Johnson adds.