In 2017, Boston University Trustee Rajen Kilachand (Questrom’74, Hon.’14) made a historic gift of $115 million, of which $100 million was devoted to establishing the Rajen Kilachand Fund for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering, supporting interdisciplinary research and solutions to some of today’s biggest challenges.

This year, one of the fund’s earliest projects—an effort to develop lab-grown lungs—was awarded $1.5 million from the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, established by the late Microsoft cofounder to support nontraditional, ambitious research in biology and medicine.

The bold early-stage research seeks to engineer cells that can mimic real lungs and bring fresh hope to people with pulmonary diseases such as asthma and lung cancer. The project is led by Wilson W. Wong, associate professor of biomedical engineering, Darrell N. Kotton, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine, medical doctor, and David C. Seldin Professor of Medicine, and Christopher Chen, director of the Biological Design Center, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor, medical doctor, and professor of biomedical engineering.

Despite the potential of therapies that switch diseased and dysfunctional tissue with healthy, lab-grown replacements, researchers are held back by a lack of understanding of how the lung naturally develops its intricate network of ever-smaller tubes. The goal of the BU project is to fill that knowledge gap, targeting the eventual regeneration of lung tissue.

“It’s risky because we have to build a lot of things from scratch, but that’s what we do in synthetic biology,” Wong says. “This is the famous physicist Richard Feynman’s philosophy—we can’t understand what we cannot build. Even if we fail, the project will add to our understanding of the lung.”