Chen wins Lemelson Student Prize

Graduate student recognized for innovation in ‘humanized mouse’

Alice A. Chen G is the winner of this year’s Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for her innovative contributions to biotechnology, most notably the “humanized mouse” — a mouse with a tissue-engineered human liver. Chen is a PhD student at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The $30,000 student prize is awarded annually to an MIT senior or graduate student who has displayed a “portfolio of inventiveness.”

Chen’s has developed a method of inserting tissue-engineered human liver into mice that allows for a better understanding of how the human liver metabolizes drugs — knowledge which can aid future drug development. She described the process of inventing this technology as “six-and-a-half years of standing on the shoulders of giants, working closely with smart and generous people, and being very patient and persistent”.

Chen said her reaction to winning the prestigious Lemelson-MIT prize was “shock and awe.”

“The family of Lemelson-MIT student prize winners are so incredibly remarkable that I still cannot believe that I’m put in that company. It’s a huge honor,” Chen said. The Lemelson panel tricked Chen by convincing her they needed her help on a project with one of the invent teams, and then surprised her with the good news once she was in the office.

Chen claimed she never aspired to a career in science but was instead guided into the field by doing research during her undergraduate years. “That was when [I] first became excited about biologists talking to engineers and engineers talking to biologists,” Chen explained.

At the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Chen is a member of Sangeeta N. Bhatia PhD ’97’s lab. Chen, who was inspired and motivated by Bhatia, regards Bhatia as a role model who “is an MD, PhD, entrepreneur, and a mom, and makes it quite effortless to pull it all together.”

At 29, Chen is well on her way to becoming a distinguished biomedical engineer. Since she earned a BS in Bioengineering from UC Berkeley and an SM in Engineering Sciences from Harvard, she has accumulated an impressive list of achievements. Chen won the first prize in the graduate division of the Collegiate Inventors Competition, a Biomedical Engineering Society Graduate Students Research Award, the MIT Graduate Woman of Excellence Award, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She co-founded Sienna Labs — a biotech start-up that is developing technology to improve laser medicine for use in skin diseases — with fellow MIT graduate Todd Harris PhD ’08.

Looking toward the future, Chen plans to dedicate herself fully to Sienna Labs. She hopes that by winning the Lemelson Prize, she can inspire and act as a role model for the world’s next generation of inventors.