Center for Biomedical Engineering

The mission of the Center for Biomedical Engineering (CBE) is to combine engineering with molecular and cellular biology to develop new approaches to biomedical technology and to foster research in the rapidly growing discipline of Biological Engineering. CBE now has almost 50 faculty members (from departments in the MIT Schools of Engineering and Science, as well as the Whitehead Institute, Harvard and Boston University Medical Schools, and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology) carrying out interdisciplinary, multi-investigator research programs within the center. This faculty research provides a training environment for new generations of graduate and undergraduate students in bioengineering, at the interface between engineering and biology.


To accomplish this mission, CBE maintains a complex of state-of-the-art Core Facility, including Multi-Photon Imaging and Atomic Force Microscopy and a new Cryofixation, Freeze-Fracture/Deep Etch facility comprising a Leica EM-CPC Plunge Slam Freezer and a Cressington CFE-60 Freeze Fracture System. This facility allows users to bring tissue specimens, cell cultures, cell-seeded scaffolds and take away a dimensionally stable platinum/carbon replica of the cryopreserved ultrastructure for electron microscopy. Additional core facilities focus on molecular modeling and engineering, biomolecular interactions and cell responses, and cell-ligand interactions.

Research Programs and Discoveries

An emerging thrust area within CBE is the field of mechanobiology, focusing on the combined role of physical and biological signals in the regulation of cellular behavior. CBE faculty researchers in the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems have greatly expanded their programs in this area. Major initiatives this past year include the funding of a Program Project Grant by NIH on "Mechanotransduction In Cardiovascular Cells". This is a multi-investigator collaboration involving CBE faculty members from the Schools of Engineering and Science, and the Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School. The central theme of this program is that mechanical forces are fundamental regulators of molecular events in the cardiovascular system because the cell functions as an integrator of mechanical and biochemical signals to provide the overall molecular response. The goal of this program is to close the gap between bioengineering and cell biology, by interfacing fundamental studies of mechanotransduction with studies of highly differentiated cellular responses that are directly relevant to cardiovascular diseases. The specific faculty-lead research projects focus on subcellular mechanotransduction in vascular smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells, quantitative aspects of integrin/ligand interactions in mechanotransduction, and the role of cardiac cycle phase in cellular mechanotransduction.

Among the many outstanding research accomplishments by CBE faculty this past year, new discoveries have revealed exciting applications for novel, self-assembling peptide hydrogel scaffolds in tissue engineering. This emerging technology has resulted in a broad spectrum of biocompatible materials through molecular engineering, which have been used to encapsulate cells such as neurons, chondrocytes, hepatocytes, and cardiomyocytes. Cartilage cells were found to generate new cartilage-like tissue and simultaneously proliferate in these peptide bio-scaffolds, opening possibilities for new approaches to cartilage repair. Neural cells were observed to undergo differentiation within the peptide hydrogels. Further discoveries were made in understanding the mechanisms by which these peptides form nanotubes, the building blocks of porous networks for cell implantation. The ongoing DARPA-funded CBE Program in Vascular Tissue Sensors for Generic Toxin and Pathogen Detection has also been a leader in the interface of cell and molecular sensing. This program involves 13 co-PIs, and has produced exciting new advances which have been leveraged, in part, by CBE's Multi-Photon Microscopy facility.

Engineering/Biology Seed Grant Program and the CBE Industrial Advisory Board

CBE's novel Engineering/Biology Seed Grant Program continues to act as a catalyst for multidisciplinary collaborations funded by members of CBE's Industrial Advisory Board. CBE's next Industrial Advisory Board meeting will occur this coming spring 2002, at which students and faculty will present oral and poster presentations summarizing their latest research initiated under the auspices of the Seed Grant Program. New discoveries from current Seed Grants on chondrocyte migration for cartilage wound repair and as well as gene delivery in collagen-glycosaminoglycan matrices for articular cartilage regeneration show promise in musculoskeletal tissue engineering.

Alan J. Grodzinsky

More information about the Center for Biomedical Engineering can be found online at

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