Graduate student Alice A. Chen received the prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize on Wednesday (March 9) for her innovative applications of microtechnology to study human health and disease.
Chen, a biomedical engineer, is enrolled at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) in the Medical Engineering and Medical Physics (MEMP) program, which is part of the collaborative Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology (HST).
She is the second SEAS student to win the Lemelson-MIT prize. Last year, SEAS/HST graduate Erez Lieberman-Aiden, Ph.D. ’10, now a junior fellow in Harvard’s Society of Fellows, won the award for his inventive work on the 3-D structure of the genome.
A fearless problem solver with a passion for mentorship, Chen is honored alongside three other winners from across the nation.
“Alice Chen’s inventive accomplishments will impact the effectiveness of new therapies,” said Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “Her passion to tackle problems and create solutions through collaboration and tenacity are qualities that must be celebrated at the collegiate level.”
Chen’s innovations have always sprung from her ability to make unique connections — whether by linking approaches gathered from disparate fields and problems to novel solutions, or by building the relationships with others that create successful teams. It is a characteristic that makes the 29-year-old thrive when faced with a new challenge.
Combining micro- and nanotechnology-based approaches to biological questions, Chen has developed an assortment of innovations with implications for drug development and disease modeling.
Chen’s most recent inventive breakthrough — a humanized mouse with a tissue-engineered human liver — is intended to bridge a gap in the drug development pipeline between laboratory animal studies and clinical trials. In drug development, animal models are used as a surrogate to human patients to develop dosing regimens and identify potential dangers to the liver and other organs. Because of stark differences between animal and human liver activity, however, pre-clinical animal screens commonly underreport human toxicities.
According to Chen, the mouse “becomes a miniature patient with a tissue-engineered liver that behaves like a human’s in many ways,” including the way the liver breaks down drugs and responds to toxic drug products.