Center for Biomedical Engineering

The fusion of engineering with molecular cell biology is pushing the evolution of a new engineering discipline, termed biological engineering, to tackle challenges in molecular and genomic medicine. To facilitate interdisciplinary, cross-departmental research at this interface, 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 with applications to medicine.

The major research thrusts of CBE involve cell and tissue engineering, molecular and cellular interactions, and physiological systems engineering. With the addition of several new investigators this past year, over 48 CBE faculty members (from departments in MIT's Schools of Engineering, Science, and Architecture and Planning, as well as the Whitehead Institute, Harvard and Boston University Medical Schools, and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology) carry out multi-investigator research programs within CBE. This research provides a training environment for a new generation of graduate and undergraduate students in bioengineering, at the interface between engineering and biology.

To accomplish this mission, CBE has continued to enhance its connections to the industrial community in collaboration with the members of CBE's Industrial Advisory Board (IAB). The IAB is the major partner in facilitating CBE's Engineering/Biology Seed Grant Program, which provides startup funds for new ventures involving faculty teams at the engineering/biology interface. CBE's central core facilities also continue to be an invaluable aid in establishing and maintaining multi-investigator collaborations between the engineering, biological, and clinical faculty members of the center.

Among the many outstanding research accomplishments by CBE faculty this past year, new developments have emerged from Seed Grant initiatives. A major NIH-funded program project grant in cardiovascular tissue engineering and mechanobiology involves collaboration between CBE investigators at MIT and the Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston. Endothelial cells, seeded into a novel self-assembling peptide scaffold, have been discovered to form lumens suggestive of a vascular network. Rapid 3D 2-photon imaging facilities have enabled studies of real-time cell adhesion and migration. Magnetic and optical traps have been developed to probe single-cell mechanics. The self-assembling peptide family of scaffolds has also been used in exciting new applications in tissue engineering using cartilage, nerve, liver, and pancreatic tissue. Chondrocytes in the peptide hydrogel can synthesize mechanically functional neo-cartilage, which can be further optimized by application of exercise-like compression during culture. Endothelial cells co-cultured with myocytes in peptide gel scaffolds induce myocyte junction formation and facilitate spontaneous rhythmic beating of the cell-scaffold structure.

In another project initiated via Seed Grant funding, a team of materials engineers and biologists have studied engineering models of lymphoid tissue and T cell activation, with applications to immune diseases. Micropatterning of autologous T cells and activation on unique synthetic surfaces may enable means for faster return of activated T cells to patients to combat disease.

Engineering/Biology Seed Grant Program

CBE's 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 Industrial Advisory Board meeting in May, 2002, enabled students and faculty to meet with IAB members, and present oral and poster presentations summarizing their latest research. The 2002–2003 Seed Grant awards funded projects on single-particle tracking of regulatory T cell function (D. Irvine, Materials Science and Engineering, MIT, and J. Chen, Biology, MIT), and novel anti-tumor agents—specifically, development of antibodies targeted to tumor-cell surface polysaccharides  (D. Wittrup, Chemical Engineering and Biological Engineering, MIT, and R. Sasisekharan, Biological Engineering, MIT).

Move to New Facilities and Laboratories

CBE is in the final stages of preparing for its relocation to new laboratory and office space on the second and third floors of 500 Tech Square (NE47) this coming June, 2003. Significant effort this past year has been devoted to designing new state-of-the-art laboratories and core facilities. A new 500 sq. ft. cell and tissue culture facility will supplement adjacent biological and biochemical laboratories to enable CBE faculty to carry out a broad range of research projects on cell-biomaterials interactions, cell mechanotransduction, cell and molecular biomechanics, and tissue engineering with applications to nerve, liver, cartilage, pancreas, and cardiovascular systems.

The CBE Cryofixation, Freeze-Fracture/Deep Etch facility, along with the multi-photon and atomic force microscopy facilities will be relocated as well. The 500 Tech Square location will also enable increased interactions with the new Whitehead Institute-MIT BioImaging Center. This latter center will also be adjacent to CBE, and will provide facilities for cryo electron microscopy, deconvolution light microscopy, and real time atomic force microscopy. Together, these methods will enable microstructural characterization of tissue engineering matrices and scaffold materials at the submicron level, which is critical to understanding cell-material interactions.

Alan J. Grodzinsky
Professor of Electrical, Mechanical, and Biological Engineering

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


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