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Two student inventors take home national prizes

Harris Wang '05, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), shared the $25,000 grand prize in the 2009 Collegiate Inventors Competition for inventing a new way of programming cells — a technology that could allow bioengineers to produce customized microorganisms much more cheaply and quickly than possible before.

Working in the laboratory of Harvard genetics professor George Church, Wang developed a protocol to allow faster cell programming, and then put together hardware and software to automate it. To demonstrate the process, he engineered a strain of E. coli bacterium that produces lycopene, a red-colored antioxidant. 

Geoffrey von Maltzahn '03, also a graduate student in HST, won the graduate student division of the competition for his work on nanoparticles that can increase the effectiveness of existing cancer drugs.

Von Maltzahn's new tumor-fighting strategy uses two sets of nanoparticles — one to target tumors, and another to deliver cancer drugs. The first set of nanoparticles lodges in a tumor's blood vessels and causes local bleeding, which stimulates production of clotting factors. Those factors attract a second set of nanoparticles programmed to deliver a cancer drug.

Von Maltzahn, who received $15,000 with his award, also won the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize earlier this year.

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