msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/7/2008 5:39:28 PM ET 2008-10-07T21:39:28

A Harvard Business School alumnus has given the university its largest individual donation ever — $125 million to start a bioengineering institute, the school announced Tuesday.

Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss entrepreneur who earned an MBA from Harvard in 1965, said he felt humbled to be able to contribute to an effort he believes will change the course of science and medicine.

Ranked at 164 on the Forbes list of billionaires, with a net worth estimated at $6 billion, Wyss has run Synthes, a Swiss-based medical-implants and biomaterials company, for three decades.

Harvard, for its part, is hardly cash poor, having built up a $37 billion endowment fund.

The Hansjorg Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering will attempt to discover the engineering principles nature uses to build living things, then use that information to create devices and technologies to meet medical needs.

"Little did I dream when I began my career in engineering that we would reach a point where engineers and biologists would be using nature's templates to create solutions to our medical and environmental challenges," Wyss said in a statement issued by Harvard.

The new institute will bring together experts from numerous disciplines, including robotics, biology, computer science and surgery.

It will build on the work of the existing Harvard Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering in Cambridge, and will be located in a science complex being built in Boston's Allston neighborhood.

"Hansjorg Wyss' vision for the potential inherent in newly emerging areas of bioengineering will allow Harvard to integrate the worlds of biology and engineering to develop nontraditional solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges," Provost Steven Hyman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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