Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health

The Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health (BEH) continues to grow in terms of top-quality faculty and student numbers, innovative educational programs, and forefront research programs in pursuing its mission of fostering MIT education and research fusing engineering with biology. Our formal Institute mission statement is "To organize education and research at the interface of engineering with biology, with special emphasis on biomedical engineering, pharmacology, and toxicology." The central premise of BEH is that the science of biology will be as important to technology and society in the next century as physics and chemistry have been in the previous one. Therefore, to translate the revolution in modern biology into a corresponding revolution in biology-based technologies, a new biology-based discipline of bioengineering must be established. We are endeavoring to educate engineers and scientists who can: apply their measurement and modeling perspectives to understanding how biological systems operate, especially when perturbed by genetic, chemical, mechanical, or materials interventions, or subjected to pathogens or toxins; and apply their design perspective to creating innovative biology-based technologies in medical diagnostic, therapeutic, and device industries, as well as in non-health-related industrial sectors such as agriculture, environment, materials, manufacturing, and defense. This should lead to a new generation capable of solving problems using modern biotechnology, emphasizing an ability to measure, model, and rationally manipulate biological systems.

The current BEH faculty members (with other MIT affiliations noted in parentheses) are Peter Dedon, William Deen (Chemical Engineering), Forbes Dewey (Mechanical Engineering), Bevin Engelward, John Essigmann (Chemistry), James Fox (Comparative Medicine), Linda Griffith (Chemical Engineering), Alan Grodzinsky (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), Neville Hogan (Mechanical Engineering), Ian Hunter (Mechanical Engineering), Roger Kamm (Mechanical Engineering), Alex Klibanov (Chemistry), Robert Langer (Chemical Engineering), Douglas Lauffenburger (Chemical Engineering), Harvey Lodish (Biology), Scott Manalis (Media Arts and Sciences), Paul Matsudaira (Biology), Leona Samson, Ram Sasisekharan, David Schauer, James Sherley, Peter So (Mechanical Engineering), Steven Tannenbaum (Chemistry), William Thilly, Bruce Tidor (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), Dane Wittrup (Chemical Engineering), Gerald Wogan, and Ioannis Yannas (Mechanical Engineering); in addition, Darrell Irvine (Materials Science and Engineering) will join the faculty this coming year upon completion of his postdoctoral work.

During fiscal year 2001, the sponsored research volume in BEH under the supervision of Administrative Officer Rolanda Dudley-Cowans was $5.8M, representing a 35 percent increase over FY2000. This actually represents only those sponsored projects formally assigned to the Division; most BEH faculty members additionally operate sponsored research projects supervised administratively within other departments and centers; these include the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center, Center for Biomedical Engineering, and Center for Environmental Health Sciences, all of which are directed by BEH faculty members (Douglas Lauffenburger, Alan Grodzinsky, and William Thilly, respectively). The major research areas within BEH include biological and physiological transport phenomena; biological imaging and functional measurement; biomaterials; biomolecular engineering and cell and tissue engineering; computational biology; discovery, design and delivery of molecular therapeutics; genetic toxicology; macromolecular biochemistry and biophysics; metabolism of drugs and toxins; microbial pathogenesis; carcinogenesis; biomechanics; molecular epidemiology and dosimetry; molecular pharmacology; genomics, proteomics, and glycomics.

Undergraduate Education

With the formation of BEH in July of 1998, there was created an appropriate academic "home" for the Minor degree program in Biomedical Engineering (BME). This program had been overseen by Professor Roger Kamm via the Center for Biomedical Engineering since the minor's inception in 1995. Immediately upon the establishment of the new division, however, the administration of the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Minor was transferred permanently to the BEH Academic Office.

Moving the BME Minor to a central departmental office has proven to be beneficial. Debra Luchanin, Academic Administrator for BEH, now oversees the administration of the program, and keeps formal records on student enrollment, withdrawal, and completion. In addition, program information has been revised and redesigned.

The BME Minor continues to attract a steady number of undergraduates. One hundred ten were enrolled in the program during 2000-2001 and 35 seniors were awarded the Minor degree at Commencement. Most of the students are drawn from Chemical Engineering, Biology, Electrical Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering.

Generous funding from the Whitaker Foundation has enabled us to establish several Bioengineering Undergraduate Research Awards to be distributed each year, beginning in 1999-2000. Students enrolled in the BME minor receive preference for these awards, which were given to support bioengineering UROP projects. Ten students each received $1,200 of research support during the academic year; an additional six students were each awarded $4,400 of support for their summer 2001 research projects. Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) members continued to be active; among other activities, they assisted with the Academic Midway and the Pre-Frosh Preview, and created a Student Guidebook.

One issue we have been monitoring about the BME minor has been the rate of actual completion; in its early years of operation, roughly 30 percent of those who enrolled in the minor did not complete the requirements by graduation. We began to track formally the reasons given for withdrawal. The program is certainly one of the most rigorous offered by the Institute, and students most frequently have noted a lack of time to complete all of the required subjects. In order to help alleviate the unusually heavy load, the required Science Core and Bioengineering Core subjects were recently modified to allow for more flexibility, and the total number required was reduced by one. Gratifyingly, the withdrawal rate for the 2001 cohort dropped to 20 percent. The BEH Academic Administrator will continue to monitor the withdrawal rate and to collect information from those who drop the program to determine if there are additional future modifications to be implemented in order to improve the program's retention rate.

A new BEH-administered undergraduate minor degree program-in Toxicology and Environmental Health (TEH)-began accepting formal enrollment in fall 1999. The goal of this new minor is to meet the growing demand for undergraduates to acquire the intellectual tools needed to understand and assess the impact of new products and processes on human health, and to provide a perspective on the risks of human exposure to synthetic and natural chemicals, physical agents, and microorganisms. Given the importance of environmental education at MIT, the program is designed to be accessible to any MIT undergraduate. Requirements include three didactic core subjects, a newly created laboratory subject "Laboratory Fundamentals in Biological Engineering," and one restricted elective. In 2000-2001, nine students, mostly Biology majors, enrolled in the TEH minor; four of those completed the program and graduated in June, 2001. An informational Open House about the TEH minor was held in April and attracted approximately 75 interested students. We eagerly anticipate future enrollment of 20-25 students per class as more students become aware of this program. Additional subjects have been added to the TEH Core and Laboratory course lists in order to provide students with greater choice and flexibility for meeting the TEH minor requirements.

BEH introduced a new academic program in 2000-2001-the Master of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering (MEBE). Designed as a fifth year of study for MIT undergraduates, the MEBE program's main goal is to educate students in the application of fundamental engineering principles to solve challenging problems in biology and medicine. Program requirements include Bioengineering Core subjects, Biomedical Engineering electives, Bioscience electives, and a thesis. Nineteen students applied for admission in the first year, with the majority of applicants from Chemical Engineering and Biology; in addition we received applications from students majoring in Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautics and Astronautics, Materials Science, Electrical Engineering, and Mathematics. Nine applicants were offered admission and seven enrolled in the program. Overall, the applicant pool was quite competitive, with 4.5 being the lowest GPA of the admitted group. Twenty-four students recently submitted applications for enrollment in the coming year. Admission decisions for that class will be made soon and the applicant quality again appears to be quite high.

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Graduate Education

The new Ph.D. program in Bioengineering was introduced in fall 1999 with a class of 11 students. One of those students has since transferred to the Mathematics Department; the remaining students have each selected a permanent research advisor and passed their Oral Exam/Thesis Proposal. The next cohort of 12 students joined the BE program in September 2000. This was also an outstanding group of high-achieving students, as evidenced by the number who received prestigious external fellowships, with seven receiving fellowships from the Whitaker Foundation, Hertz Foundation, National Science Foundation, and the Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering/Science (GEM) program. This past spring's most recent graduate recruitment results were even more rewarding, as we admitted less than 10 percent of the applicants and over 75 percent have accepted our offers. We thus look forward to continued growth in this program as we welcome 15 new students in September 2001, plus two others who deferred enrollment until later in 2001-2002; of these, again, more than half have received external competitive fellowship awards. Of the 2000-2001 pool of 213 applicants to BEH, 11 were members of under-represented minority groups: African American (4), Mexican American (3), Puerto Rican (2), and Hispanic (2). Two minority students were offered admission; one accepted the offer to join our Ph.D. program, and has been selected for the prestigious Leventhal Fellowship by the Provost's Office.

The existing Toxicology Graduate Program was placed under the auspices of BEH in July 1998 with minimal disruption. Forty-three students were enrolled in 2000-2001; ten graduated during the year (8 Ph.D.; 2 S.M.). Four Toxicology students received external competitive fellowships, and three students received competitive MIT Fellowships awarded by the Graduate Dean's Office: the Leventhal Fellowship, Provost's Women/Minority Fellowship, and the Ida Green Fellowship. Of the fifteen applicants admitted to the Toxicology Ph.D. program for September 2001, nine accepted our offer.

The spring of 2001 saw a revision of the Toxicology graduate curriculum. The revision was undertaken as part of a long-range plan to broaden the program to reflect the evolving research activities of the toxicology faculty. The new name for the program, "Molecular and Systems Toxicology" reflects our goal of integrating technology and engineering with toxicology in the post-genomic era. Building on a foundation of molecular, biochemical, and analytical toxicology, the Molecular and Systems Toxicology graduate program stresses a systems approach to complex biological problems with the application of new tools and technologies to understand problems of human health and disease and to develop new therapeutics. In parallel with the Bioengineering graduate program, the Molecular and Systems Toxicology curriculum now consists of four core subjects and two electives. The four new core subjects are BEH.201, BEH.214, BEH.215, and BEH.400J.

BEH.201 Systems Pharmacology and Toxicology addresses the chemical and biological analysis of the metabolism and distribution of drugs, toxins and chemicals in animals and humans, and the mechanism by which they cause therapeutic and toxic responses.

BEH.214 Human Pathophysiology addresses the mechanisms underlying selected human diseases, with particular emphasis on molecular and biochemical basis of pathogenesis.

BEH.215 Analytical Toxicology and Epidemiology deals with the logic and technology needed to discover essential causes and accelerating factors for human disease. In addition to the development of quantitative models of major mortal diseases, the subject addresses the evaluation of present day epidemiological and statistical methods for assessing roles of environmental factors.

BEH.400J Perspectives in Biological Engineering is an in-depth presentation and discussion of how engineering and biological approaches can be combined to solve problems in science and technology, emphasizing integration of biological information and methodologies with engineering analysis, synthesis, and design. The subject emphasizes the molecular mechanisms underlying cellular processes, including signal transduction, gene expression networks, and functional responses.

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Faculty Notes

Honors and Awards

Professor John M. Essigmann received the Award for Research Excellence in the Field of Mutation Research. Given by the American Chemical Society, December 2000.

Professor Roger Kamm received the Everett Moore Baker Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Professor Robert S. Langer received a number of awards in 2000, including the Glaxo Wellcome International Achievement Award (Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain), Millennial Pharmaceutical Scientist Award (Millennial World Congress of Pharmaceutical Sciences), First Pierre Galletti Award (American Institute of Medicine and Biological Engineering), the Wallace Carothers Award (American Chemical Society) and an Honorary Doctorate from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. Dr. Langer has also been honored as the Herman Beerman Lecturer (Society for Investigative Dermatology), the Millennial Lecturer (University of Liverpool), the Bayer Lecturer (University of Pittsburgh), the Bayer-Stein Honorary Lecturer (University of Massachusetts at Amherst), the William G. Lowrie Lectureship (The Ohio State University), the Frank T. Gucker Lecturer (Indiana University) and the First Patten Distinguished Lectureship (University of Colorado at Boulder).

Professor Douglas A. Lauffenburger was elected to National Academy of Engineering and Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Professor Leona Samson received the American Cancer Society Research Professorship began in January 2001; The "Environmental Mutagen Society Annual Award for Research Excellence" was awarded in February 2001; and Keynote lecturer at the 2001 Gordon Research Conference on Genetic Toxicology in August 2001.

Professor James L. Sherley received the Samuel A. Goldblith Career Development Professorship (2000-2003) and was Charles E. Reed Faculty Initiatives Fund Recipient (2001).

Professor Gerald N. Wogan was appointed Princess Takamatsu Cancer Research Fund Lecturer for 2001 and received the Merit Award that accompanies the Lectureship.

Invited Lectures, Committees and Research

Professor Peter C. Dedon was appointed to the Ad hoc subcommittee of the MIT Environmental Health and Safety Committee; Chair of the MIT Radiation Protection Committee; and Program Chair of the Division of Chemical Toxicology of the American Chemical Society. He was also invited to give seminars at the Department of Pharmacology, University of Rochester, November 2000; Department of Chemistry, Tennessee State University, November 2000; Nitric Oxide Gordon Conference, February 2001; Division of Biological Chemistry, American Chemical Society, August 2001; 7th International Workshop on Radiation-induced DNA Damage, Nouan-le-Fuzelier, France, September 2001; Department of Medicinal Chemistry, University of Minnesota, October 2001; Department of Chemistry, Saint Olaf College, October 2001, Department of Chemistry, University of Maryland, Baltimore City, October 2001; and the Department of Radiology, University of Sherbrooke, October 2001.

Professor Bevin P. Engelward has made tremendous progress in developing the first mouse model in which genetic changes can be detected in situ within intact tissues of a mammal. This novel technology will make it possible to determine how different cell types within a tissue vary in their susceptibility to genetic change. The technology being used is exemplary of the BEH mission: namely, to combine expertise in biological sciences (molecular biology/biochemistry/genetics) with expertise in engineering (mechanico-optical engineering). We were originally awarded a small amount of funding to provide the means for piloting this work. Because of our rapid progress, the NCI has whole heartedly endorsed phase II funding for this exciting research project.

Professor Linda Griffith continues to serve as Principal Investigator (PI) on a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project to develop tissue-based sensors for biological warfare agents, collaborating with R. Kamm, D. Schauer, J. Sherley, and S. Tannenbaum at MIT; J. Vacanti and R. Lee at Harvard Medical School; and J. Wands at Brown University. This project has been further expanded into a DuPont-MIT Alliance (DMA)-supported effort to develop physiological models for effects of environmental agents. A broad patent on the technology has been granted and MIT is in licensing discussions. Work also continues in the area of new polymers for tissue engineering and cell biology. She chaired the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Science Foundation (NSF) workshop on training and education in Bioengineering, Medical Engineering and BioInformatics and gave a plenary lecture at the NIH Bioengineering Consortium (BECON) conference on Reparative Medicine. Professor Griffith Presented several invited talks at conferences, other universities, and government panels. At MIT, she continues to serve as the Associate Director of Education for the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center (BPEC), the faculty advisor for the Biomedical Engineering Society, and as head of the Biotech Student Leadership Council.

Professor Douglas A. Lauffenburger initiated a new DARPA "Bio-Info-Micro" project with colleagues in BEH and elsewhere in the Institute.

Professor Leona D. Samson is the Project Leader for one of five projects of a huge Program Project Grant (PPG) that was recently approved for funding by the NCI. She will be part of an 18 member team from 12 different institutions across the US who succeeded in being awarded this roughly 15 million dollar Program Project Grant entitled "Structural Cell Biology of DNA Repair Machines." The center of gravity for this huge collaborative study will be at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) at the University of California at Berkeley and the Co-PIs are John Tainer and Priscilla Cooper. Among other things, we will have a dedicated newly designed beam line for structural analyses of DNA repair complexes.

Associate Professor Ram Sasisekharan is involved in both the undergraduate as well as graduate education here at MIT to shape the new generation of bioengineers. He serves on a dozen MIT committees, and serves as the graduate officer for the Division of Bioengineering. He has been or is a consultant for over a dozen pharmaceutical/ biotechnology companies. He serves on the advisory board of two public companies, one of them being the largest pharmaceutical company in India. He has been an avid supporter of the MIT Industrial Liaison Program (ILP), and has visited and lectured many ILP companies. He is on a NIH study section representing the area of extracellular matrix, and was also invited to join the editorial board of Angiogenesis which is a forefront journal in the field. He has successfully raised research grants here at MIT-being a PI on three major NIH R01 research grants and a co-PI on an additional grant. He has received funding from industry to carry out research at MIT in the polysaccharide area. He was invited to set-up a structural-bioinformatics core here at MIT by the leaders in the glycobiology field, for a major NIH sponsored consortium.

Professor James L. Sherley participated in the following talks: August 14, 2000, "The Function Of The P53 Tumor Suppressor Gene In Healthy Cells," Department of Biochemistry, Meharry Medical College, Nashville, TN; November 13, 2000, "Molecular Determinants of Asymmetric Stem Cell Kinetics," Department of Embryology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Baltimore, MD; November 20, 2000, "Molecular Determinants of Asymmetric Stem Cell Kinetics," Morphology and Motility Group, Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; March 31, 2001, "Revival and Application of Principles of Asymmetric Stem Cell Kinetics," Haitian Scientific Society Seminar, Northeastern University, Boston, MA. Meeting Talks: August 23, 2000, "IMPDH: A Regulator Of Somatic Stem Cell Kinetics," Special Symposium: Inosine Monophosphate Dehydrogenase (IMPDH): Perspectives on a Major Therapeutic Target, 220th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Washington, D.C. (Talk described in: Witczak, Z. J. (2000) IDrugs 3, 1283-1284); July 19, 2001, "Molecular Determinants of Asymmetric Cell Kinetics," Workshop on Stem Cells, 60th Annual Meeting of the Society for Developmental Biology, University of Washington, Seattle. Patent Applications (2001-3 provisional applications filed): Sherley, J. L. , "Methods for Ex Vivo Propagation of Somatic Stem Cells"; Sherley, J. L. and Merok, J. R., "Unique Biological Properties of Stem Cells"; Semino, C., Shuguang, S. and Sherley, J. L., "Cellular Reprogramming in Peptide Scaffold and Uses Thereof."

Professor Ioannis V. Yannas's book Tissue and Organ Regeneration in Adults was published by Springer in July 2001. It is the first single-author book in the emerging field of tissue engineering. It is also the first book to describe the phenomenon of induced regeneration of organs.

Douglas A. Lauffenburger, Steven R. Tannenbaum

More information about the Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health can be found online at http://web.mit.edu/beh/.

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