77 Massachusetts Avenue, Building 16 Room 429, Cambridge, MA 02139
  Telephone (617) 253-0805 | Facsimile (617) 253-2400 |
e-mail: bpec-www@mit.edu


Overview

The Biotechnology Process Engineering Center (BPEC) is an interdisciplinary research and education center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). BPEC was founded in 1985 as one of the first national Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and has evolved to a current core mission of fusing the practice of engineering with the science of biology to meet technological challenges in the biotechnology industry. The underlying premise of this mission is that the molecular and genomics revolutions in biology require engineering analysis, design, and synthesis in order that breakthrough discoveries can be translated effectively into products and create new industries – as well as to foster further developments in basic science.
The NSF currently provides core funding for a team comprising 12 faculty investigators – 5 engineers, 6 biologists, and a chemist – and over 20 of their students and postdocs to focus on 2 specific problems in the areas of therapeutic gene and stem cell technologies: (a) gene delivery to stem cells that form blood, in order to correct inborn genetic problems; and (b) gene delivery to cells in liver to treat liver cancer. The results of BPEC research activities also provide a foundation for treating other degenerative diseases (like diabetes), the repair of injured tissues (e.g., spinal cord), and therapies for other types of cancers – and also to preventative DNA vaccines that can arrest the onset of disease altogether. BPEC research activities thus encompass problems important in the western world but -- like liver cancer – are also highly endemic in developing countries. The problems addressed through the NSF-supported research provide a unifying thread among the diverse, active labs of the BPEC investigators, each of whom brings perspective from an array of other basic science and engineering projects funded by NIH, other NSF divisions, DOD, industry, and foundations. The research directions of BPEC thus continue to evolve and expand to incorporate the latest scientific advances and the needs of industries translating these advances into practice, and to reach out to new industries. An evolving area, for example, is the development of tissue engineered physiological models for drug discovery and development.




BPEC is intimately linked to both graduate and undergraduate education at MIT. In addition to providing the foundation for the several courses co-taught by BPEC biology and engineering faculty at MIT, BPEC faculty played a leading role in creation of an entirely new academic unit at MIT, the Biological Engineering [BE] Division, starting in 1998. MIT created BE in order to nurture the emerging discipline of Biological Engineering through creation of a new PhD program (in 1999), which is now one of the most competitive PhD programs in the Engineering School at MIT. The successful PhD curriculum provides a model for an undergraduate major in Biological Engineering at MIT, with an anticipated introduction date of 2005. The BPEC Student/Postdoc Leadership Council, comprising an interdisciplinary group of trainees engaged in BPEC research, provides essential perspective to the development of the research and education environment, and they initiate many BPEC outreach events.
The faculty, students, and staff of BPEC are intellectually, culturally, and ethnically diverse. This diversity is celebrated and fostered both through BPEC-initiated activities and through participation in the student-led Biological Engineering Diversity group, which was founded by several BPEC students as a department-wide discussion and action group.
The high level of impact BPEC research and education has on industry is manifested by a thriving Industrial Consortium and Advisory Board [ICAB], many of whom now sponsor research projects with BPEC faculty in support of BPEC continuing as a self-sufficient Center following graduation from NSF support in 2005. ICAB companies and others also license BPEC-generated patents. Student interactions with industry are emphasized in many ways –internships for both PhD students and undergraduates; industry participation on student thesis committees; co-authorship of papers by industry partners and BPEC students; industrial seminar series and recruiting visits arranged by the Student Leadership Council; and the hiring of BPEC graduates and undergraduates by BPEC ICAB members.
In summary, BPEC is translating basic knowledge in stem cell biology and gene regulation to create engineered systems as new therapies for genetic disorders and cancer. At the same time, it is profoundly impacting biotechnology by fostering development of the new discipline of Biological Engineering, providing the kind of new engineers who can lead industry into new directions and even create new industries.