MIT Reports to the President 1998-99

Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health

The Division of Bioengineering & Environmental Health (BEH) officially began operation in July of 1998, with the mission of fostering MIT education and research fusing engineering with biology, and the ensuing year has been extraordinarily exciting and productive. During the 1998—99 academic year, a new Ph.D. program in Bioengineering was approved to join the ongoing doctoral program in Toxicology. A new S.B. minor program in Toxicology and Environmental Health was approved to join the ongoing minor program in Biomedical Engineering. Two grants from the Whitaker Foundation were garnered, totaling upwards of $5M: one to support the continuing enhancement of the Biomedical Engineering S.B. minor and the planning for a new Biomedical Engineering 5-year M.Eng. Program, and a second to support the establishment of the Bioengineering Doctoral Program. During fiscal year 1999, the sponsored research volume for BEH was $2.1M. This represents only those sponsored projects assigned to the Division. Many BEH faculty members have sponsored research projects assigned to other departments, labs and centers. Two new BEH faculty were hired to join the 22 original founding members: Darrell Irvine as a dual Assistant Professor between BEH and the Department of Materials Science & Engineering in the field of biomaterials, and K. Dane Wittrup as a dual Professor between BEH and the Department of Chemical Engineering in the field of molecular biotechnology.

The extraordinarily interactive nature of BEH at the engineering/biology interface has been demonstrated from our outset in many ways. Four inter-Departmental research centers closely associated with the Division continued to prosper and grow in national impact and influence: the Center for Biomedical Engineering under the direction of BEH/EECS Professor Alan Grodzinsky, the Center for Environmental Health Sciences under the direction of BEH Professor William Thilly, the Division of Comparative Medicine under the direction of BEH Professor James Fox, and the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center under the direction of BEH/ChE Professor Douglas Lauffenburger. An additional major multi-investigator, inter-disciplinary research effort similarly focuses a large BEH research activity: the DARPA-Funded Tissue-Based Biological Sensor program headed by BEH/ChE Associate Professor Linda Griffith. Three substantial Federal Training Grants similarly run by BEH Faculty support interfacial engineering/biology/chemistry education of Undergraduate Students, Graduate Students, and Postdoctoral Associates. The Three Training Grants are: the NIH Genomics Training Program under the direction of BEH/Biology Professor Paul Matsudaira, the NIH Toxicology Training Program under the direction of BEH/Chemistry Professor John Essigmann, and the NIH Biotechnology Training Program under the direction of BEH/ChE Professor Douglas Lauffenburger. Thus, BEH has quickly gained a highly-visible and influential leadership position in bioengineering in a very short period of time, both on the MIT campus and across the nation.


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 Prof. 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 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. Fifty-nine students were enrolled in the program during 1998—99 and 18 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 1998—99. Students enrolled in the BME minor receive preference for these awards, which were given to support bioengineering UROP projects. Eight students each received $1,000 of research support during the academic year; additional five students were each awarded $4,000 of support for their summer 1999 research projects. A formal awards dinner was held this past spring to honor the Research Award recipients, as well as office holders of the campus Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). Certain BMES members were particularly active this year; among other activities, they assisted with recruiting students to the Minor and organized a Career Fair.

One concern about the BME minor has been the relatively high withdrawal rate from the program. Between 25-30% of those who enroll in the Minor do not complete the requirements. We are now beginning to track formally the reasons given for withdrawal. The program is certainly one of the most rigorous, and students often site a lack of time to complete all of the courses as being the primary reason for dropping the Program. In order to help alleviate the heavy courseload, the required Science Core and Bioengineering Core courses were recently modified to allow for more flexibility. 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)–was approved by the Committee on Curricula this past Spring, with formal enrollment to begin 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 included three didactic core subjects, a newly created laboratory subject "Laboratory Fundamentals in Biological Engineering", and one restricted elective. An informational Open House about the TEH minor was held in late April and attracted more than 125 interested students. We eagerly anticipate an enrollment of 20-25 students per class once the program is officially available.


The existing Toxicology Graduate Program was placed under the auspices of the BEH in July 1998 with minimal disruption. Thirty-four students were enrolled in 1998—99; five graduated during the year (2–Ph.D; 3–S.M.). Zachary Shriver was awarded the Whitaker Health Sciences Fund Fellowship, a competitive MIT fellowship awarded by the Graduate Dean's Office. Two students received Fellowships from sponsors outside of MIT: Carrie Hendricks is supported on a D.O.D. Fellowship, and Cecilia Fernandez received a Ford Foundation Fellowship for Minorities.

Toxicology admissions appeared not to have been affected by the move to BEH. We received 42 applications for admission in 1999, as compared with 44 for the previous year. Of the 17 admitted to the program for September 1999, 13 (10–Ph.D. and 3–S.M.) have accepted our offer.

Throughout the past year, arrangements were made to convert all existing "TOX" prefix subjects to "BEH" listings. These new listings will be effective with the publication of the 1999—2000 Course Bulletin.

Completely independent of the move to BEH, faculty revised the TOX Ph.D. curriculum this past Spring. Most significant was the adoption of a half-term format for several required subjects. The revised curriculum allows for focus on fewer problems in greater depth and the incorporation of new disciplines (e.g., cell kinetics, extracellular matrix) into the curriculum. In addition, students will be introduced to the primary literature earlier and more often. Structured in several two-week sessions in which students apply basic facts/concepts/methods to problems in toxicology, the new BEH.203 course addresses students' possible need for remediation in organic chemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, physical chemistry, mathematics or other areas.

An exciting new Ph.D. Program in Bioengineering was approved in December 1998 and we began accepting applications to this Program immediately thereafter. Although there was relatively little time to publicize the Program thoroughly before the mid-January application due date, we nonetheless received a significant number of excellent applications to the BE program. Of the 67 applications reviewed, 17 applicants were offered admission to the program and 13 accepted our offer. Two have since deferred their enrollment to September, 2000 because they each were awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to work outside of the U.S. (in Peru, and in Spain) for one year. The outstanding caliber of the group admitted to the BE program was indeed further confirmed by the fact that three of those admitted have been awarded the prestigious Whitaker Foundation Fellowships for graduate work in Bioengineering.

Of the entire pool of applicants to BEH, only four were from members of under-represented minority groups: African American (2), Mexican American (1), other Hispanic (1). Efforts are being made to help increase the number of minority applicants to our programs in future years. For example, four BEH faculty (Profs. Essigmann, Grodzinsky, So, and Thilly) are participating as mentors to interns in the MIT Summer Science Research Program (MITSSRP) for Minority Students in 1999. The MITSSRP has proven in the past to be a good path for directly drawing students to our Graduate Programs; we hope this summer's research experience will again help us attract more minority students. In July, the Graduate Dean's Office is sponsoring a meeting of all MITSSRP interns and science and engineering department/division representatives. Prof. Peter Dedon and Debra Luchanin, BEH Academic Administrator, will attend this meeting in order to meet with interns, provide them with information about the Toxicology and Bioengineering programs, and encourage those interested to apply to BEH next year. In addition, we hope to send a BEH faculty representative to recruit graduate students at the SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) Conference in Portland, Oregon in October, 1999.


Professor William M. Deen gave a seminar in the Department of Chemical Engineering of the City University of New York, and an invited talk at a symposium sponsored by the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications at the University of Minnesota. He received the Outstanding Faculty Award from the Graduate Students in the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Professor Bevin P. Engelward - Invited Lectures: University at Albany, Department of Biological Sciences, 50 Years of DNA and RNA Methylation: A Symposium in Honor of Dr. Rollin Hotchkiss, "Methylation Damage and Repair", Albany, NY (November, 1988); American Association of Cancer Research Special Conference, Endogenous Sources of Mutations, "The Influences of DNA Glycosylases on Spontaneous Mutation", Ft. Myers, FL (November, 1998). Key Research Accomplishments: Results have shown that 3M3A DNA glycosylase is the major DNA repair pathway in mammalian cells, although there is repair of 3MeA by another pathway as well. Studies of recombination in E. coli have shown that (1) not all-blocking lesions are equal–there are different recombination pathways for different lesions that inhibit DNA polymerase and (2) recombination is a major DNA repair pathway for NO damage in prokaryotes. Studies of recombination in yeast show that 3MeA DNA glycosylase activity prevents spontaneous and damage-induced recombination. She has also nearly completed development of a recombination detection system for use in mammalian cells and mice.

Professor John M. Essigmann was the Keynote Speaker at the CaP-CURE Annual Meeting. He was a Speaker at the 25th Anniversary Symposium at State University of New York, Stony Brook. He presented Seminars at Boston College, University of Minnesota Cancer Center, University of Indiana, Nucleic Acids Gordon Research Conference, Purines and Pyrimidines Gordon Research Conference, and the Genetic Toxicology Gordon Research Conference. He was Symposium Speaker at the National Institutes of Health, Environmental Mutagen Society, University of Chicago and was the Symposium Chair at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting.

Professor James G. Fox received the following Awards: One of Ten Best Scientific Papers-10th International H. pylori symposium, Budapest, Hungary; Philip C. Trexler Lecturer-Association of Gnotobiotics, Bethesda, MD; Merit Award, Research in Comparative Medicine, Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association; Distinguished Fred Ramsey Lecturer, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. Invited Lectures: "The genus Helicobacter: Expanding Pathogenic and Zoonotic Potential", presented at the Forsyth Dental Center Harvard School of Dental Medicine Joint Seminar Series, Boston MA (January 22, 1998); "Hepatobiliary and intestinal diseases associated with Helicobacter infections", Foundation for Gastrointestinal Microbial Pathogens. Second Annual Winter H. pylori Workshop, Phoenix AR (February 27-28, 1998); Moderator. "Innovative Biomedical Technologies: The IACUC Response", Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research Conference (PRIM&R), Boston MA (March 27-28, 1998); "Hepatobiliary & Helicobacter spp. identified in bile and gallbladder from Chileans with chronic cholecystitis", presented at the annual American Gastroenterological Association Meeting, New Orleans Louisiana (May 19, 1998); "Helicobacter Update", presented at the Charles River Laboratories Twelfth Annual Short Course, Wilmington MA (June 24, 1998); "Enterohepatic Helicobacter species: Their role in animal and human diseases" presented at the Pasteur Institute of Paris, Paris France (June 29, 1998); "Experimental model of other Helicobacters infection", presented at the II International Workshop: Extragastric Pathologies Associated with Helicobacter Infection, Rome Italy (July 2, 1998); "Animal model for HP, animals with helicobacter induced IBD", presented at the International Symposium: Helicobacter meets IBD, Kobe Japan (July 31, 1998); "Enterohepatic Helicobacter spp. identified from humans with primary sclerosing cholangitis", presented at the XI International Workshop, Budapest Hungary (September 5, 1998); "Intestinal Helicobacter spp. -occult pathogens or commensals", presented at the World Congress of Gastroenterology, Vienna Austria (September 11, 1998); "Helicobacter and liver biliary diseases", presented at the Satellite symposium at the 40th Japanese Society of Gastroenterology, Osaka, Japan (October 29,1998); "Helicobacter and animal models of inflammatory bowel disease", presented at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease 8th Annual Symposium, Boston MA (November 19, 1998).

Professor Linda Griffith continues to serve as PI on a $5M grant from DARPA to develop tissue-based sensors for biological warfare agents. She was invited to give a lecture at the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) "Frontiers of Engineering" Annual Meeting, and was then one of two participants in that meeting invited to represent the "Frontiers" Symposium at the Annual NAE Meeting. She was elected as a Fellow in the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers, and was asked to serve on a special panel at NIH to evaluate and report on ways to improve NIH funding in bioengineering research and technology development. At MIT, she was one of three co-recipients of the Class of 1960 Award for Innovation in Teaching.

Professor Alan J. Grodzinsky received the Whitaker Foundation Educational Materials Grant along with Roger Kamm and L Mahavedan to write a textbook on Molecular, Cellular, and Tissue Biomechanics. Received the MIT "Class of 1960 Innovation in Education Award" along with Linda Griffith and Roger Kamm for creation of the Undergraduate Minor in Biomedical Engineering. Became President of the International Cartilage Repair Society (November, 1998—April, 2000; Society now in its 3rd Year/600 members). Conference Co-Organizer of the International Cartilage Repair Society's meeting in Boston (November 1998); Session Chair. Invited Lectures include: Proteoglycan Gordon Conference (July, 1998); Keystone Tissue Engineering (1998); NY Acad Sci Conference on Matrix Metalloproteinases (October 1998). Research Accomplishments include: new discoveries in chondrocyte mechanotransduction–effects of mechanical loads on intracellular organelles and synthesis/degradation of aggrecan and other extracellular matrix molecules; PI of newly awarded NIH RO1 on Chondrocyte Mechanotransduction (in addition to existing NIH MERIT Award).

Professor Roger D. Kamm received the MIT "Class of 1960 Innovation in Education Award" along with Linda Griffith and Alan Grodzinsky for creation of the Undergraduate Minor in Biomedical Engineering. Chaired Symposia: World Congress of Biomechanics, Sapporo Japan, August 1998 (session organizer); the Annual Meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society, Cleveland (session organizer–3 sessions); Summer Meeting of the ASME Bioengineering Division, Big Sky MT., (Chair, on site arrangements; Session Organizer - two Sessions). Invited Lectures: AIMBE Annual Meeting, Undergraduate Bioengineering Education at MIT, Washington, D.C. (March, 1998); Brown University, Alumni Lecture Series, New Horizons in Biomedical Engineering (May, 1998); NASA National Space Biomedical Research Institute, Computational Models of the Cardiovascular System and its Response to Microgravity, Houston (June, 1998); Seoul National University, Medical School, Seoul, S. Korea, Cardiovascular Modeling (August, 1998); Seoul National University, Mechanical Engineering Dept., Seoul, S. Korea, Airway Wall Mechanics (August, 1998); Chosun University, Mechanical Engineering Dept., Kwang Ju, S. Korea, Airway Wall Mechanics (August, 1998.); World Congress of Biomechanics, Sapporo, Japan (August, 1998); Tutorial Lecture, Pulmonary Fluid Mechanics On the Mechanism of Prophylaxis against Deep Vein Thrombosis by External Compression Mechanotransduction in the Airway Wall: It's Possible Role in Asthma; US, China, Japan & Singapore Biomechanics Symposium, Mt. Zao, Japan, On the Mechanism and Biological Basis of Asthma (August, 1998); Case Western University, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, The Mechanics and Biology of Asthma (September 1998); Home Automation and Health Care Consortium, MIT, Cardiovascular Models in Non-invasive Monitoring & Diagnosis (October 1998); Annual Meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society, Cleveland, Airway Wall Mechanics (October 1998); Boston University, Biomedical Engineering Dept., The Mechanics and Biology of Asthma (November 1998); Northwestern University, Biomedical Engineering Dept., The Mechanics and Biology of Asthma (January 1999); Columbia University, Biomedical Engineering Dept., The Mechanics and Biology of Asthma (February 1999); Euromech Meeting on Biological Fluid-Structure Interactions (April, 1999); and Plenary Lecture, Flow and Wall Mechanics in the Asthmatic Airway

Professor Douglas A. Lauffenburger presented the 1999 Bayer Lecture in Biochemical Engineering at the University of California-Berkeley, the 1999 Katz Lectures in Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan, one of the 1999 Horizon Lectures at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and the 1999 MRC Lecture at the Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting. In addition, he received the 1999 Amgen Award in Biochemical Engineering from the Engineering Foundation. He was appointed to a term on the Peer Review Oversight Group at the National Institutes of Health beginning in 1998. He continues to serve as Director of MIT's NSF Engineering Research Center in Biotechnology, the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center, as well as Co-Director of BEH.

Professor Harvey Lodish was elected as Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 1998—99 and presented the following named or keynote lectures: Keynote Lecture, Nature Biotechnology Conference "Pharmaco-Genesis: Postgenomic Drug Discovery Through Developmental Biology"; Director's Lecture, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD; Keynote Address, 15th Annual Student Research Forum, Oregon Health Sciences University; Robert Wong Visiting Professor, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii at Manoa; Keynote Lecture, Phage Display, Novel Therapeutics and Diagnostics, Boston, MA; "Horizon" Lecture, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland OH; Alexander and Helena Schonfeld Lecture in Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO

Professor Ram Sasisekharan Invited Lectures: International Symposium on Proteoglycans, Kobe, Japan; Department of Pharmacology, Trinity College, Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK; International Symposium on Heparan Sulfate Proteoglycan; Wenner-Gren Foundation, Stockholm, Sweden; Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, Washington University, School of Medicine, St. Louis; Department of Pharmacology, University of Massachusetts Medical Center; 1998 Gordon Research Conference on Proteoglycans, Andover, NH; Icos Corporation, Seattle, WA; Genetics Institute, Andover, MA; Becton Dickinson Pharmaceuticals, Franklin Lakes, NJ; Temporary Study Section Member, Pathobiochemistry Study Section, NIH (6/99) Awards: Beckman Foundation Young Investigator Award (1999); National Institutes of Health (NHLBI) (1999); R01 Research Grant Award; Burroughs Wellcome Fund Young Investigator Award (1999); Edgerly Science Partnership Award (1999); CaPCure Foundation, CaPCure Award (1998). Key Research Accomplishments: Developed an approach that enables the rapid sequencing of femto to picomole amounts of tissue-derived complex polysaccharides (Venkataraman, G., Raman, R., Shriver, Z., & Sasisekharan, R., A Methodology for Sequencing Heparin-like Glycosaminoglycan Complex Polysaccharides (Pending)). Using heparin-like glycosaminoglycan complex polysaccharides as a model system, we have developed a sequencing strategy that involves the combination of matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry and a unique coding strategy for polysaccharides [Venkataraman, G., Raman, R., Shriver, Z., & Sasisekharan, R., (1999) A Methodology for Sequencing Heparin-like Glycosaminoglycan Complex Polysaccharides (submitted)].

Professor James L. Sherley was invited to speak at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA (April 10—14, 1999); Ask the Experts Public Session "Somatic Stem Cell Kinetics"; and at the Associations of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (May 16-20, 1999) Symposium: Oncogenes/Antioncogenes "New Insights Into p53 Tumor Suppressor Function". He was invited to present a seminar at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa (November 12, 1998), Host: Marc Wold, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Title: "The p53 tumor suppressor protein controls replicative DNA synthesis by guanine-ribonucleotide-mediated regulation of cdk2/cyclin E". He received an MIT Charles E. Reed Faculty Initiatives Fund Award to support his research in "Propagation of Somatic Tissue Stem Cells in Culture".

Professor Steven R. Tannenbaum was the Co-Organizer of a FASEB meeting on Antioxidation at Copper Mountain (August, 1998); invited to present a paper at the Gordon Conference on Cancer (August, 1998); Co-Organizer of Symposium on DNA Damage and Repair, ACS National Meeting (August, 1998); Co-Organizer of Symposium on N-Nitroso Compounds, ACS National Meeting (March, 1999); and appointed to the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council–Board on Army Science and Technology, Committee on Review and Evaluation of the Army Chemical Stockpile Disposal Program. He continues to serve as Co-director of BEH.

Professor Gerald N. Wogan was the Fogarty Scholar-in-Residence, National Institutes of Health (Oct. 1, 1998—May 31, 1999); Visiting Professor-Distinguished Visitor Programme, National University of Singapore (June 14, 1999—July 14, 1999); and recipient of the Founders Award, Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (May, 1999).

More information about the Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health can be found on the World Wide Web at

Douglas A. Lauffenburger, Steven R. Tannenbaum

MIT Reports to the President 1998-99