James Collins is the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science and Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT, as well as a Member of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences & Technology Faculty. He is also a Core Founding Faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and an Institute Member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. He is one of the founders of the field of synthetic biology, and his research group is currently focused on using synthetic biology to create next-generation diagnostics and therapeutics. Professor Collins’ patented technologies have been licensed by over 25 biotech, pharma and medical devices companies, and he has co-founded a number of companies, including Synlogic, Senti Biosciences, Sherlock Biosciences and Cellarity, as well as Phare Bio, a non-profit focused on AI-driven antibiotic discovery. He has received numerous awards and honors, including a MacArthur “Genius” Award and the Dickson Prize in Medicine, and he is an elected member of all three national academies – the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine. Synthetic biology involves the use of engineering principles to design and build synthetic gene circuits with well-defined functionality, enabling living cells and cell-free systems to be programmed to do what we want them to do to help address diverse applications in new and unprecedented ways. In response to the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, James Collins’ research showed that it is possible to freeze dry cell-free systems and synthetic gene circuits onto paper to create inexpensive, paper-based diagnostics for emerging pathogens. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they extended this platform to textiles to create a new class of wearable diagnostics, including a COVID-19 face mask diagnostic. The face mask is inexpensive, rapid and highly accurate, on par with nucleic acid-based diagnostic tests like PCR. Moreover, the system can be readily reprogrammed to detect newly emerging variants and multiplexed to detect other respiratory viruses such as the seasonal flu, in addition to SARS-CoV-2.

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