This week, we presented the Russell & Burch Award to Dr. Donald Ingber, a professor at Harvard University and the founding director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. Dr. Ingber is one of the pioneers behind the development of organ-on-a-chip technology, which is now being used to help replace animal testing for drug development and personalized medicine.

The Russell & Burch Award was created to honor scientists who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of alternative methods in the areas of research, testing or higher education. We estimate that more than 190 million dogs, cats, monkeys, rabbits, rats and other animals are forced to endure painful experiments in laboratories worldwide every year, but non-animal methods have the potential to greatly reduce—and eventually eliminate—their suffering. The award presentation took place at the 12th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences in Niagara Falls, Canada.

The latest recipient of the Russell & Burch Award is Dr. Donald Ingber, a pioneer behind the development of organ-on-a-chip technology, which is helping to spare animals from suffering in research laboratories.
Wyss Institute at Harvard University

In 2010, Dr. Ingber and his team developed the first lung-on-a-chip that was capable of emulating breathing motions. The technology was named one of the Top 10 Emerging Technologies by the World Economic Forum and Design of the Year by the London Design Museum and was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for its permanent collection. A peer who nominated Dr. Ingber for the Russell & Burch Award describes this creation as “a truly disruptive technology that underpins Dr. Ingber’s ability to bring transformative scientific concepts to reality.” We couldn’t agree more.

Dr. Ingber has been involved in the creation of more than 15 organ-on-a-chip models, including chips for bone marrow, kidney, brain and liver. He was one of the first to demonstrate that multiple organ chips could be connected, which is important for understanding how a drug or other substance might impact the whole human body.

Emulate, a startup he founded, has commercialized organ-on-a-chip technology and ignited a new industry. He and his team at Emulate authored a landmark study demonstrating that organ chips are better than animal tests at predicting how drugs and other compounds might affect a person’s liver.

During the course of his career, Dr. Ingber’s has helped to achieved scientific progress in bioengineering, mechanobiology and cancer research. In total, he has founded five biotech companies, authored more than 500 publications and contributed to nearly 200 patents.

The Russell & Burch Award is named for William Russell and Rex Burch, the scientists who formulated the Three Rs approach: replacing animals entirely with a non-animal method, reducing the number of animals used in an experiment and refining the experiment so animals experience less suffering. 

Since 1991, the award has celebrated 19 scientific pioneers working in diverse settings around the globe. Recent winners include Uwe Marx at biotechnology company TissUse, Robert Kavlock at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Martin Stephens at Johns Hopkins University, and Julia Fentem at consumer product giant Unilever.

By testing the boundaries of science and initiating revolutionary changes, Dr. Ingber and researchers like him are creating a future in which animals no longer suffer in the name of scientific advancement and human health.

Follow Kitty Block @HSUSKittyBlock.