Biotechnology Process Engineering Center

The Biotechnology Process Engineering Center (BPEC), as a National Science Foundation engineering research center, is a multi-disciplinary body with faculty members from the MIT Departments of Biology, Chemistry, and Chemical Engineering, the Biological Engineering Division, and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, along with the University of Toronto Department of Chemical Engineering and the Brown University School of Medicine Liver Center.

Goals, Objectives, and Priorities

BPEC remains committed to its core mission of fostering interdisciplinary research and education fusing engineering with molecular cell biology, with emphasis on strategic problem-solving and close interactions with the biotechnology industry. The center's NSF-supported strategic plan continues to focus on therapeutic gene biotechnology, with two major engineered-system objectives: an ex vivo approach employing genetically-engineered stem cells, and an in vivo approach employing targeted viral or synthetic vectors. This plan leverages and synergizes with our broader MIT mandate to catalyze research and education at the biology/engineering interface, prominently including the academic unit charged with creating and operating curricular degree programs in this area, the Biological Engineering Division (BE).

The educational programs of BPEC deal with the needs of undergraduates, graduates and industrial personnel. The goal of the educational programs is to provide integrated and broad bioengineering perspectives to the students. We have energized our student leadership council with new members and activities. At the undergraduate level we have continued to participate in the biomedical engineering minor offered by BE to students in all majors, while at the graduate level we likewise participate in the Bioengineering and Toxicology PhD programs offered by BE along with the traditional PhD programs in the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, and Chemical Engineering. In addition, NIH training programs in biotechnology and in genomics are administered from the BPEC office, leveraging the NSF ERC to broader educational opportunities at the engineering/molecular-biology interface. Undergraduate research is achieved through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program for MIT students and the Research Experience for Undergraduates for non-MIT students. Special one-week summer courses are offered to industrial personnel.

Industrial activities and planning are coordinated through our Therapeutic Gene Biotechnology Industrial Consortium Advisory Board, supervised by our BPEC team of Matt Croughan, industrial liaison officer, and Jean-Francois Hamel, associate industrial liaison officer.


BPEC successfully passed the NSF critical site visit review. A new cooperative agreement will be issued for the period from September 1, 2002 to August 31, 2005. We are on, or ahead of, our strategic plan timeline schedule in both project areas. We have identified exciting new enhancements in each of these project areas, which are helping to accelerate our movement toward the ultimate engineered systems. We have added a new investigator, Professor Leona Samson of BE and director of the Center for Environmental Health Science, who is a leading authority in the field of toxicogenomics. In addition, we welcomed Professor Alexander Klibanov (Department of Chemistry and Biological Engineering Division) as a returning BPEC PI to undertake formulation and clearance studies of the synthetic polymer gene delivery vectors being developed by Robert Langer. We have added a new degree program in BEH, the Master of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering, which offers an opportunity for students to carry out thesis research in industry. We have energized our Student Leadership Council (SLC), with new members and activities. We have more than doubled the size of our Industrial Consortium Advisory Board (ICAB), from seven to 18 members, and have received the most strongly positive ICAB SWOT analysis since the BPEC reconfiguration three years ago. We have begun to establish specific research collaborations with ICAB members. We have begun collaborations with the Cambridge Public Schools in building K–12 outreach, along with continuing our summer Research Experience for Undergraduate program, and successfully participated in an NSF research experience teachers program. We are formulating conceptual underpinnings of a plan toward attaining self-sufficiency status within approximately five years.

Overall, we submit that we are making excellent progress in accord with our strategic plan and in response to input from ICAB and SLC.

The duPont MIT Alliance (DMA) funded 17 projects with 16 primary PIs and 33 co-PIs across 11 departments and centers. All projects were represented at duPont's annual TechCon meeting in Delaware in May 2002. In addition, the steering committee approved funding for 20 graduate fellowships: three in biology, biological engineering, chemical engineering, two in chemistry, materials science and engineering, mechanical engineering and the Sloan school, one each in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the Technology, Management, and Policy Program, and the Department of Physics. Three DMA faculty presented a four-day executive tutorial in biotechnology in June of 2002.

A total of 134 people took part in BPEC's NSF research strategic plan during fiscal year 2002. This figure comprises 45 MIT undergraduate lab interns (i.e., UROP students), 46 non MIT undergraduates who participated in the center's NSF Research Education for Undergraduates program; one Cambridge middle school teacher who participated in the center's Research Experience for Teachers program; 24 graduate students; 26 postdoctoral associates/fellows; 10 visiting scientists, engineers, industry researchers; eight administrative personnel; two other director level personnel; and 12 faculty. Some faculty served as executive directors.

Educational Outreach


The BPEC has established a close collaboration with Dr. Melanie Barron, the science department coordinator for the Cambridge public schools. A program in the planning stage is a lecture series on Biotechnology for middle and high school students and parents. This series is being planned for winter 2002.

One of the new BPEC K–12 outreach programs held during the summer 2001 is the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University's Engineering Research Center for Computer Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology (CISST). It is our BPEC aim to enrich the experience of selected Cambridge High School teachers supported by a supplemental RET grant from the NSF. During the past summer, Ms. Amy Walsh, a Cambridge middle school teacher, participated in this program under the supervision of Linda Griffith and Jean-Francois Hamel.

The BPEC continues to give tours of its facilities to K–12 students and teachers. An introduction to BPEC and its research is given to each tour group prior to visiting the laboratories. Thirty-five students along with their teachers attended tours throughout during fiscal year 2002.

Graduate Outreach

The NIH Biotechnology Training Program (BTP), now in its 13th year of funding, continues to be administered from the BPEC office, leveraging the NSF ERC to broader educational opportunities at the engineering/molecular-biology interface. The NIH BTP provides funds to support 20 pre-doctoral students who will provide future leadership in all aspects of biotechnology and the biotechnology industry. This requires that students be educated more broadly than would normally occur within their own discipline, in order to solve problems when they arise and working with others from diverse backgrounds. The interdisciplinary program provides a formal mechanism for this broader education through specific research, education, and industrial interaction requirements. Activities include a yearly retreat and periodic trips to biotechnology company sites. Currently 26 faculty participate in the program from the Biological Engineering Division, the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Mathematics. Professors Griffith, Langer, Lauffenburger, Sherley, Wang, and Wittrup are currently participating in the BTP.

We have also administered an NIH genomic training program during fiscal year 2002.

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Administrative Initiatives

Professor Linda Griffith has been appointed as the center's deputy director. In addition, we have named Whitehead fellow George Daley to be team leader for the stem cell gene delivery vehicles project and MIT professor Dane Wittrup to be the team leader for the targeted molecular gene delivery vehicles project.

We have substantially increased the participation of BPEC faculty in events organized by student groups, including the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), NOBCHE, and the Society of Women Engineers. Linda Griffith serves as the faculty advisor for BMES and several BPEC faculty have made presentations at BMES seminars and social events. Assisting Professor Griffith in the coordination of the BMES activities is Mr. Daniel Darling.

We had a change in support staff in the center's headquarters office. Filling two already established positions, Ms. Michelle Berry joined the team as the assistant fiscal administrator and Ms. Katrina Haff joined the team as the assistant communications coordinator.

As outlined by NSF policy, the Student Leadership Council (SLC) conducted a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis. The SWOT was conducted by an anonymous survey sent to all researchers (students and post-doctoral fellows) affiliated with BPEC. The SWOT report was positive but requested that more industrial action between the industrial members and students occur. This point was taken seriously and further industrial involvement has been put into place.

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Finances and Funding

As an NSF engineering research center, BPEC had to pass a critical site review December of 2001. We are pleased to report that the center passed successfully and will receive a new cooperative agreement for the period from September 1, 2001 to August 31, 2005.

Future Plans


It is BPEC's plan to participate in the RET program organized in connection with the NEST program. NSF RET funding for one teacher by BPEC for fiscal 2003. The teacher began work in July in the laboratory of Robert Langer. Should further funding be obtained, additional teachers will join this program under BPEC's direction. In addition it is BPEC's plan to continue its outreach to MIT undergraduates through UROP.

We plan to develop a lab for Cambridge first-through-sixth graders to come to MIT and spend four hours learning how genetic variability influences responses to toxins. Before attending the lab, students will choose from a list of about 20 substances for those they think will kill various kinds of cells (liver cells, brain cells, skin cells). In addition to different cell types, Leona Samson will transfect cells with genes that might either protect against or enhance the effect of the toxin. This will be used to explain variability among people in the population and explain how gene therapy might help these people.

The NIH Biotechnology Training Program (BTP) developed a new requirement where trainees will need to complete a two-three month industrial internship during their BTP appointment.


We are making vigorous moves to ensure that both our stem cell vehicle and targeted vehicle thrusts are strongly connected to the driving forces arising from the ultimate engineered systems—these vehicles—being applied to human clinical studies. These moves manifest in tangible action the commitment of our vision to the full scope of gene therapy.


During this past year we have taken yet another major step forward in our undergraduate educational efforts by establishing a new five-year combined SB/MEng degree program in biomedical engineering. With this program, an MIT undergraduate can obtain his or her SB degree in any major along with a MEng degree in biomedical engineering within an integrated five-year period. The curriculum splices key aspects of the BME minor with some of our BE PhD core subjects, and adds an independent research project leading to a MEng thesis.

One especially exciting opportunity that the MEng leads to is the possibility of students carrying out their thesis research in an industrial setting, such as in a laboratory at one of our ICAB partner companies. We are beginning to pursue discussions with some of our ICAB members about ways to move along this very attractive avenue. (It can be noted here that this might provide one facet of our strategy aiming toward ultimate self-sufficiency status.)

Student Leadership Council

New student representatives along with a new slate of officers are being appointed to the center's student leadership council, which is made up of undergraduates, graduates and postdocs.

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Personnel Information

Leadership in the Field and Involvement with Others

There are many indicators noting how BPEC is recognized and respected as a national center to the professional communities. One measure of the outreach and leadership of the ERC faculty is the invited presentations to the various biotechnology communities. The 12 faculty members in the BPEC during fiscal 2002 participated in the following categories: 45 seminars at universities, 22 seminars at industries, 28 presentations at national and international conferences, and two participations at workshops or short courses.

One very important feature of our leadership in the field of bioengineering resides in the general recognition that our new bioengineering doctoral program in the Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health represents the vanguard program in the emerging discipline of bioengineering defined as engineering based on molecular-to-genomic biology. A particularly telling example of this point can be found in the selection of the director, Douglas Lauffenburger, to give the opening lecture on bioengineering as the central discipline in the field of biomedical engineering at the Whitaker Foundation Biomedical Engineering Education summit meeting held in December 2000; this presentation was invited by the Whitaker Foundation to outline for the audience—representatives of the many major programs in biomedical engineering and bioengineering nationally and internationally—what MIT has created for education in this new discipline as a model for others to consider emulating. An additional example of this point was the selection of the associate director for education, Linda Griffith, to serve as co-chair of the recent NSF/NIH workshop on education in bioengineering, medical engineering, and bioinformatics; at this workshop the key intellectual directions of educational programs in these three areas were critically examined and reported upon.

A second indicator of BPEC's faculty leadership and achievements can be perceived in a listing of honors, awards and professional leadership services bestowed in 2000–2001. A significant number of the BPEC faculty have been recognized by invited distinguished lectureships across the country, major awards and prizes, and fellow election in professional societies.

A third indicator is the strong interest in hiring BPEC graduates into academic faculty positions at other leading institutions, due to the appreciation for the high caliber of talent and innovative approaches and perspectives in bioengineering and biotechnology that our students and postdocs exhibit. Examples just from the new therapeutic gene biotechnology thrust area include David Schaffer (now assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley; from Lauffenburger laboratory), Daniel Pack (now assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; from Langer laboratory), and Peter Zandstra—now a BPEC investigator himself as an assistant professor of chemical engineering and biomedical engineering at University of Toronto, having worked as a postdoc collaboratively among the Daley, Griffith, and Lauffenburger laboratories.


Robert Langer was the Ullyot lecturer for the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Clapp lecturer at Brown University, Julian Smith lecturer at Cornell University, Mason lecturer at Stanford University, Herman Beerman lecturer at the Society for Investigative Dermatology, Millennial lecturer at the University of Liverpool, Bayer lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh, and delivered the Bayer Stein honorary lecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He received an honorary degree from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, a Glaxo Welcome international achievement an award from the Royal Pharm Society of Great Britain, and a Millennium Pharmaceuticals scientist award from Millennial World Congress of Pharm Sciences.

Doug Lauffenburger was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was named Skalak memorial lecturer at the University of California, San Diego, in the Department of Bioengineering.

Harvey Lodish was made chair of Section 22 Cellular and Developmental Biology National Academy of Sciences, served on the visiting committee for the Division of Biology at CalTech, co-organized the Whitehead Institute symposium on molecular machines, and established the Harvey F. Lodish career development chair in the sciences at Kenyon College. He was the distinguished lecturer for the Harvard School of Public Health, was on the scientific advisory board for ZMBH (Center for Molecular Biology Heidelberg) Heidelberg Germany, and was distinguished lecturer at the Louisiana State Health Services Center.

James Sherley received the Samuel A Goldblith career development fellowship.

Daniel I.C. Wang received an honorary doctorate of engineering from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Jack Wands received an NIH merit award and Peter Zandstra won the Premiers research excellence award and was named the Canada research chair in biomedical engineering.


BPEC produced 122 publications related to the BPEC NSF strategic plans during fiscal year 2002.

Audrey Jones Childs
Director of Administration

More information about the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center can be found on the web at


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