MIT has established a Center for Biomedical Engineering (CBE) that will coordinate campus-wide research in this field and facilitate new research partnerships between biologists and engineers.
Given MIT's international reputation in engineering and biology and its proximity to world-class hospitals, "the Institute is positioned to have the best biomedical engineering program in the world," said Douglas A. Lauffenburger, director of the new center and J.P. Mares Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Professor Lauffenburger, who joined the faculty in January, also holds an appointment through the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) in Whitaker College.
For many years MIT researchers have made important contributions to biomedical engineering, a field that turns advances in biology into the devices, materials and methodologies that improve health care. But until now MIT research in biomedical engineering has not been coordinated through one center.
"I think the general feeling was that we have terrific faculty and students in biomedical engineering, but we could be even better, in terms of impact and influence both within the Institute and nationally, if we organize it and bring it into closer contact with modern molecular and cell biology," Professor Lauffenburger said.
The establishment of the new center was announced by Professor J. David Litster, vice president and dean for research.
Research through the CBE is organized in three areas: molecular engineering, led by Professor Paul T. Matsudaira of the Department of Biology and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research; cell and tissue engineering, led by Robert S. Langer, Germeshausen Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and physiological systems engineering, led by Professor Ian Hunter of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
All three areas are interrelated, Professor Lauffenburger emphasized. For example, Professor Hunter is inventing microrobotic surgical instrumentation that combines electronics, micromechanical devices and systems control. But proper functioning of this instrumentation requires a reliable model for the mechanical properties of the tissue being operated upon. These properties in turn derive from the tissue's underlying cellular and molecular properties. Professor Hunter's expertise in instrumentation will also provide improved techniques for studies at the molecular and cellular levels.
Professor Lauffenburger's appointment to the faculty was announced by Robert A. Brown, Warren K. Lewis Professor of Chemical Engineering and head of the department.
"Doug Lauffenburger will add considerably to the Institute's already unique strength in cell and tissue engineering. I am looking forward to the new research initiatives and collaborations that grow out of CBE," Professor Brown said.
Professor Lauffenburger's personal research involves molecular and cellular engineering. He is attempting to predict how cell functions can be manipulated by altering particular molecular properties of a cell or its environment. Recently he altered a protein growth factor that stimulates certain tissue cells to multiply, and hewas able to correctly predict the increased cell proliferation response. Other applications of his work include improved design of adhesion molecules to control cell migration in wound healing and tissue regeneration, and selective delivery of genes into cells.
Professor Lauffenburger holds the BS degree in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois (1975) and the PhD in the same field from the University of Minnesota (1979). From 1990-94 he was a professor of chemical engineering and cell and structural biology at the University of Illinois, and from 1979-90 he was a professor of chemical engineering and cell biology at the University of Pennsylvania.
His honors include the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' Colburn Award (1988) and Bioengineering Division Award (1993), and the American Society for Engineering Education McGraw Award (1992). He has also received an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award (1984), an NIH Research Career Development Award (1984), and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1989).
Professor Lauffenburger is a member of several professional societies, including the AIChE, the American Society for Cell Biology and the Biomedical Engineering Society. He is also a founding fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering. Dr. Lauffenburger is an author of more than 100 technical articles and a book, Receptors: Models for Binding, Trafficking, and Signaling.
CBE exists as a multidisciplinary center within Whitaker College.
It replaces the previous Program for Biomedical Engineering, which coordinated biomedical engineering research within the School of Engineering. The new center is intended to have a broader, campus-wide scope.
CBE involves faculty from the Schools of Engineering and Science as well as Whitaker. In addition to Professor Lauffenburger, other key members of the CBE administrative committee are Professor Alan J. Grodzinsky of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Professor Roger D. Kamm of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Professor Grodzinsky is associate director for facilities; Professor Kamm is associate director for programs.
At present the Center is supported by funds from MIT, grants to individual CBE member faculty and by a Whitaker Foundation Special Opportunities Award. The Whitaker award will make possible the acquisition of resources and equipment for research and teaching in the area of tissue engineering, and will assist in the establishment of new educational opportunities for graduate students. The principal investigator for the award is Elazer R. Edelman, Herman Von Helmholtz Assistant Professor in HST. Professor Edelman, Associate Professor Martha Gray of HST, and Linda Griffith Cima, Karl von Tassel Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, are also members of the CBE steering committee.
In the long term, CBE plans to raise endowment toward generating a substantial portion of the operating budget. The Center will eventually be housed in Building 56; construction to that end should be complete in about two years.
For further information on CBE, call Dr. Lauffenburger at 252-1629 or send him a note at
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 15, 1995.