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UC San Diego will receive $25 million donation to support its acclaimed research in bioengineering

Gene Lay is donating $25 million to UCSD in of Shu Chien.
Gene Lay is donating $25 million to UCSD in honor of Shu Chien.
(Courtesy of Shu Chien )

The gift is meant to honor Shu Chien, whose landmark work on blood flow helped in the treatment of everything from sickle cell anemia to atherosclerosis

UC San Diego’s bioengineering program, which was praised during the pandemic for creating better sensors to monitor patients’ vital signs and its efforts to improve ventilators, will receive a $25 million donation to support teaching, education and research.

Gene Lay, who founded the San Diego biotech company BioLegend, is making the gift in the form of an endowment that will help a program that’s ranked among the 10 best of its kind in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

Lay is donating the money in honor of his friend and mentor, Shu Chien, who was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2011 for discoveries about blood flow that led to better ways to treat everything from sickle cell anemia to atherosclerosis.

Chien — who is still doing research at 91 — also helped to expand and improve bioengineering at UCSD, turning it into one of the school’s hottest programs.

"(His) perseverance, integrity, caring nature and passion continue to inspire me to make a difference in the world,” Lay said in a statement. “Dr. Chien’s work embodies the mission of the Laygend Foundation, which is to translate scientific discovery into life-changing therapies and medicines.”

Chien was born in China in 1931 and later earned a medical degree from National Taiwan University. He moved to the U.S. in 1954 and earned a doctorate in physiology at Columbus University, where he shook science in 1967 with a series of papers that showed how red blood cells can deform and aggregate — discoveries with broad applications across medicine.

Years later, he moved to UCSD, where he expanded and enriched the bioengineering program, setting it on a path to where it is today.

In announcing the new donation, UCSD said the bioengineering department will now be known as the Shu Chien-Gene Lay Department of Bioengineering.

“I’m so grateful and excited I just can’t describe how wonderful this is,” Chien told the Union-Tribune. “In life, you do things to help others, not expecting a return, which is how it should be. To have this happen is — well, I’m beyond grateful.”


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