The 2021 International Biomedical Research Alliance Innovation Award Sponsored by BioHealth Innovation Inc. Presented to Olive Jung

First awarded in 2016, the International Biomedical Research Alliance’s Innovation Award recognizes novel solutions in biology or medicine and acknowledges discoveries of unusual importance, application, or magnitude that make use of new or unusual methods, paradigms, or approaches to solve important problems in biology or medicine. Again in 2021, the Innovation Award was generously sponsored by BioHealth Innovation Inc. For the first time, this award was presented, ex aequo, toOlive Jung and Lawrence Wang for their individual accomplishments. 

Olive Jung is an NIH-Oxford MD/DPhil Scholar in the Class of 2019, whose mentors are Dr. Marc Ferrer at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and Dr. Eleanor Stride at the University of Oxford. Lawrence Wang is an NIH-Oxford MD/DPhil Scholar in the Class of 2018, whose mentors are Dr. Robert Seder at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Dr. Simon Draper at the University of Oxford.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the huge need for physiologically relevant in vitro assay platforms to investigate viral infectivity and to serve as clinically predictive drug screening platforms for the efficient and fast development of therapeutics.  For Olive’s Ph.D. thesis project, she has been developing a microfluidics-based tissue model of the human blood-brain barrier with a complex, physiologically relevant cellular composition and organization that mimics the human brain tissue.  

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Olive pivoted her thesis work using the same assay platform to develop a physiologically relevant lung tissue model of the lower respiratory tract to mimic the primary site of severe SARS-CoV-2 infection and the lung region most affected during the terminal stage of COVID-19. Olive developed a novel vascularized, lower respiratory tract multi-chip model for the alveoli. The model includes a perfusable microvascular network consisting of human primary microvascular endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and pericytes. She developed biofabrication protocols that enable the formation of differentiated lung epithelial layers at the air-liquid interface on top of the vascularized tissue bed. 

Olive thoroughly validated this lung epithelial tissue model using a range of technologies, including fluorescence microscopy, flow cytometry, and electrical resistance measurements. These vascularized, perfusable microfluidic lung tissue on a high throughput microfluidics plate is a unique, ready-to-use physiologically relevant assay platform that will enable the development of respiratory viral infection and disease models for research investigation and drug discovery.

“I was very surprised and honored to be recognized with and awarded the Innovation Award during the workshop! This past year has been a difficult time for many graduate students – some of us had to re-allocate our resources and time to help the general scientific community and the public understand the SARS-CoV-2 and COVID19 better, with the goal of developing models and platforms to identify effective therapeutics. I am incredibly grateful that the NIHOxford-Cambridge community, as well as the International Biomedical Research Alliance and BioHealth Innovation, have decided to recognize the work – I am just lucky to represent all of the students who have been part of this collective effort. I want to emphasize that my work came to fruition only because of my NIH team at the 3D Tissue Bioprinting Laboratory and support from my UK mentors who were more than understanding of my transient tangent from my Ph.D. project. I hope that in the near future, these collective efforts from all of us will help to reduce the emotional, economic, and social costs of the pandemic, and prevent further lives from being lost,” stated Olive.

Upon graduation, Olive will return to medical school to pursue her journey as a physician-scientist. We wish her much success in her future and look forward to reading about Olive’s achievements.