Revolutionizing Genetic Analysis

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Leaders in Innovation

Revolutionizing Genetic Analysis

Meet 2019 NIHF Inductee David Walt!

We are honored to have David Walt join the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF).

The Invention

David Walt is a pioneer in the field of genetic analysis. He developed microwell arrays, a revolutionary technology that allows thousands of genes to be analyzed simultaneously

“Several years after these microwell arrays were created, we realized that we could use them as a way to create very high-density arrays used for DNA analysis,” Walt said.

Walt’s technology began when an etching procedure resulted in tiny, evenly spaced wells on the ends of optical fibers. Walt realized the pattern and depths of these wells were highly reproducible and predictable, with sizes orders of magnitude smaller than anything previously reported: a fiber with a diameter of 0.5 mm could accommodate as many as 50,000 wells. When the etched fibers were exposed to a suspension of tiny beads, one bead fell into each well. Walt attached fluorescent dyes to the beads so that researchers could determine the identity and location of each bead. He had created the first self-assembled random bead array. This changed the approach to sensor fabrication and made arrays simple to assemble and easy to reproduce.

The Inventor

“I realize as a scientist that the reason you want to commercialize things is to make sure that they scale and that the world gets to benefit from those scientific discoveries and technological developments,” Walt said.

In 1998, Walt became the scientific founder of Illumina, Inc., which focused on random bead array technology for developing the next generation of genotyping instrumentation. By the early 2010s, Illumina tools were used in 90 percent of all genetic analyses performed worldwide.

In 2007, Walt founded Quanterix, which is focused on the development of his single molecule analysis technology.

“My experience drives home how, when you make a new technology available to the world through translation and commercialization, the impact it has on the world is on an entirely different scale. It is measured not by the number of papers we publish, but what kind of impact we make on improving human health, access to food and security,” he said.

“I like to look to the future instead of look to the past. I’m always looking forward for the next opportunity, the next thing,” he continued.

The Impact

These days, Walt’s work has paved the way to better understanding and predicting human genetics. From determining an individual’s ancestry to discovering what genes predispose us to certain diseases and safely prescribing medications.

Microwell arrays revolutionized the field of genetic analysis, and Walt continues to find immense success as an entrepreneur.

“I think I have a lot more work to do,” Walt said.

Transforming the world of genetic analysis, his technology has accelerated our understanding of human genetics and has made DNA analysis accessible and affordable — which is why you’re able to purchase a DNA test at your everyday drug store.  

A Tufts University professor from 1981 to 2017, Walt is currently a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and the pathology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is also a member of the Wyss Institute at Harvard and is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. He has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Walt will join the ranks of other global innovators in the National Inventors Hall of Fame during the 2019 Induction Ceremony on May 2. 

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