The axolotl salamander can regrow not only its tail but also its limbs and parts of its brain, heart, and spinal cord. Based on research of the axolotl’s genome, Andy Chen ’16, along with his former professor at Harvard University and a team that includes the former CEO of a biotech company, have launched Matice Biosciences.

The consumer biotech startup plans to create products that promote scarless healing and, eventually, skin regeneration. Chen is co-founder and CEO; co-founder Jessica Whited is a leading expert in the axolotl and an assistant professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute.

Whited was one of Chen’s professors while he earned his master’s degree in bioinformatics. He worked in Whited’s lab, supporting her pioneering research on the axolotl’s genome, which is closely related to that of humans.

The axolotl’s genome was first sequenced in 2018, around the same time that Whited’s young son suffered a serious facial injury in a bicycle accident. Appalled by the lack of options for preventing scars, the two decided to use their research and knowledge to create Matice Biosciences. In May, the venture received the grand prize of $75,000 in Harvard’s President’s Innovation Challenge. Since then, Matice secured financing and is running consumer clinical trials.

At Hamilton, Chen majored in biology and minored in linguistics, and after graduation, supported by the Levitt Center, he and Leonard Kilekwang ’16 co-founded and ran Tecnosafi, a public-health nonprofit in Kenya.

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Later, Chen was an early hire at c16 Biosciences, a Harvard-MIT synthetic biology startup working to develop a sustainable palm oil alternative. “I really became enamored with this idea of using for-profit business models and biotechnology to have an impact on the world and on human beings, outside of just regular drugs, which is what biotech has historically been used for,” he says.

That’s his goal with Matice Biosciences, and his liberal arts education has come in handy. “It really helped me understand how to talk to people about science and how to think about how science and the humanities interplay,” Chen says.

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