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 with applications to medicine and biology. To accomplish these goals, CBE maintains an array of state-of-the-art core research facilities, stimulates new initiatives via a Biology/Engineering Seed grant program, and stimulates novel directions via interactions with members of its Industrial Advisory Board.

CBE participating faculty and investigators have focused on three main research thrust areas: cell and tissue engineering; molecular-cellular interactions; and physiological systems engineering. Recent advances by CBE researchers have lead to new discoveries and major multi-investigator collaborations on cellular mechanotransduction in cardiovascular and musculoskeletal tissues. In addition, molecular nanomechanics has become a focal point for structure-function studies involving intracellular as well as extracellular matrix macromolecules. These new research foci will expand and deepen over the next two to three years, coupled in part to new programmatic grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Industry.

Relocation to 500 Technology Square

A major event in the history of CBE is its this past year to new laboratory and office space in 500 Technology Square (NE47), the culmination of a year of planning and construction to meet the needs of the center's expanding activities. New state-of-the-art laboratories have been opened to house CBE's core facilities: a new 500 sq. ft. cell and tissue culture facility adjacent to biological and biochemical wet laboratories on the 3rd floor now enables CBE faculty MIT-wide 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 are now located in specially constructed rooms on the 2nd floor. Importantly, several new laboratories of the new Whitehead Institute—MIT BioImaging Center (BIC) are newly colocated on the 2nd floor, including real-time AFM and confocal microscopy imaging facilities. With the focus of BIC on imaging technologies that are complementary to CBE, the colocation of both CBE and BIC at 500 Tech Square has initiated close collaborations in areas of key interest to CBE researchers. Studies have already begun on the nanostructural characterization of tissue-engineered matrices and scaffold materials, which is critical to understanding cell-material interactions.

Major New Initiatives

Multi-investigator research collaborations were initiated this past year in several key areas. One of the fundamental challenges in tissue engineering is the nature and design of an appropriate three-dimensional scaffold. Self-assembling peptides offer a three-dimensional environment of cells with biologic functionality that can be modified and controlled. To explore this fundamental premise, a major CBE initiative has brought together researchers from MIT and Harvard Medical School in biophysics, bioengineering, cell biology, molecular biology, physiology, and imaging. The use of self-assembling peptides in tissue engineering potentially enables the control of cellular adhesion, biomechanical properties, growth factor presentation and/or release, and vascularization. A fundamental theme of this partnership is that no single tissue engineering approach is suitable for the diverse structure of all tissues. However, the central hypothesis is that by providing a physiologically appropriate, molecularly specific environment that can be modified by design, we can utilize the core technologies to improve the approach for a given tissue. The goals are to develop core technologies of 3D tissue engineering based on peptide sequence design and the functionalization of self-assembling peptides; to explore the basic biophysics of the self-assembling peptide environment using state-of-the-art computational modeling and biophysical measurements; and to explore the role of the self-assembling peptide environment in three major target tissues: myocardium, cartilage, and liver. Taken together, these goals span the entire range of CBE research thrust areas and are leveraged by the newly relocated core facilities in 500 Technology Square.

In another multi-investigator collaboration, the nanomolecular interactions of novel biological and synthetic polyelectrolyte brushes are a central focus. Researchers from a broad array of fields including tissue structure and biomechanics, biochemical analysis, electrical and mechanical engineering, biological engineering, electrical double layer theory, nanomechanics, and materials science and engineering are involved. The overall goal is to use powerful new nanoscale experimental and theoretical tools and methodologies to develop a foundation for the fundamental physics of novel technologically important polyelectrolyte (PE) brush and brush-like systems. Biological systems such as the natural brush molecules of connective tissues and related synthetic polyelectrolytes form a common thread for these studies.

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

More information about the Center for Biological Engineering can be found on the web at


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