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Tech Day spotlight is on bioengineering

MIT's expertise in measuring, changing and designing biological systems at the molecular level has ushered in a new era for engineering the building blocks of life. At Technology Day this Saturday, June 4, leading bioengineering faculty will explain the Institute's role in developing breakthroughs from creating liver tissue to challenging the drug resistance of cancer cells.

The audience for Technology Day, the intellectual core of Tech Reunions, includes MIT graduates and guests from the classes of 1930 to 2000 on campus June 2-5 to reconnect with friends and learn about MIT advances.

Discussions on this year's Technology Day topic, "Bioengineering at MIT: Building Bridges Between the Sciences, Engineering and Medicine," will begin 9 a.m. in Kresge Auditorium with an overview by Douglas Lauffenburger, director of MIT's Biological Engineering (BE) Division. Three division faculty will introduce their work: Linda Griffith, a mechanical and biological engineering specialist who works on tissue engineering; Angela Belcher, a materials chemist who focuses on the interfaces of materials; and Ram Sasisekharan, who studies the role of sugars in cell functions. Martha Gray (Ph.D. '86), director of the Division of Health Sciences and Technology, will describe how emerging biomedical technologies are changing medicine.

The moment is ripe for exploring bioengineering since MIT is launching the nation's first biological engineering field of study that fuses molecular and cellular bioscience with engineering. "MIT has built a new curriculum based on modern molecular life sciences with application to a range of problems in pharmaceuticals, health care, environment and biology-based synthesis of new technologies," said Griffith, chair of the undergraduate BE committee.

Thomas Magnanti, dean of the School of Engineering, noted that the molecular and genomic revolutions have placed biology as a new foundational science for engineering, joining physics, chemistry and math. "At MIT, engineers are working with their counterparts in MIT's renowned biology department to meld biology with a design-oriented engineering approach," Magnanti said. "The new bioengineering looks at the problem and asks: What if we could regenerate living tissue itself? Or develop innovative gene therapeutics? Or build new devices using biological components?"

This research is improving the practice of medicine, according to Gray, a medical and electrical engineering specialist who focuses on diagnosis and treatment of arthritis.

"In an idealized world, medical strategies are built on a full understanding of the underlying molecular/cell/tissue/organ-level physiology, so problems or potential problems can be unambiguously diagnosed and a preventative or therapeutic strategy specifically targets the problem," Gray said.

In addition to Technology Day, the 3,000 alumni and reunion guests can choose from more than 100 activities, including the traditional Tech Night at the Pops on Thursday. The 50th class reunion group will lead the Commencement procession.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 1, 2005 (download PDF).

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