MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVI No. 3
December / January 2004
Financing MIT
Vest to the Faculty
Our New Look
The Search for a New President
Assigning a Final Grade When Some of the Work Has Not Been Completed
Identifying My Father
A Child's Chore
The Laboratory for Nuclear Science
Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology
LBGT Issues
Trans at the Institute
Making the Most of E-Mail: Popular Services, Recent Changes
OCW as Knight Errant
Individuals Appointed to the Faculty
1985 to Present
Printable Version

Research at MIT

Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST)

Martha L. Gray and Joseph V. Bonventre

Founded more than 30 years ago, the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) is one of the oldest and largest biomedical engineering and physician-scientist training programs in the United States, and is the longest-standing collaboration between Harvard and MIT. From the beginning, HST has focused on breaking down the barriers that can impede interdisciplinary education and on creating an environment that brings innovation from the laboratory bench to the bedside and clinical insight from the bedside to the bench.

Today we live in an era of fundamental change in disease management, including prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. We are beginning to measure and understand individual differences in disease susceptibility and therapeutic responsiveness, and strategies are emerging to "engineer" molecules, cells, and tissues to provide benefit. HST's research enterprise is poised to make the Division a leader in this quickly-evolving field.

Its research program encompasses initiatives based at laboratories at MIT, Harvard University, and Harvard Medical School (HMS), and collaborations involve faculty and resources at area teaching hospitals including Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Children's Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI), and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). And in addition to individual faculty research efforts at these locations, HST research also comprises several centers, including the HST/ Children's Hospital Boston Center for Biomedical Informatics, HST Division of the Brigham and Women's Hospital, MIT Clinical Research Center, The Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, The Boston Heart Foundation, The Center for Experimental Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and The Harvard-MIT Biomedical Engineering Center .

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While HST students can choose to work in a large number of laboratories doing a broad spectrum of research, HST has decided to focus its research identity in three specific areas: Biomedical Imaging; Biomedical Informatics and Integrative Biology; and Regenerative and Functional Biomedical Technologies. It intends to use the leverage provided by the Harvard and MIT collaboration and the marriage of biomedical engineering, clinical science, and medicine to make major contributions in these areas, in each of which HST's interdisciplinary orientation emphasizes the quantitative and molecular science of medicine and biomedical research.

Biomedical Imaging . With the explosive recent advances in biomedical imaging technologies - many of which were developed by HST researchers - we have a growing capacity to non-invasively visualize and manipulate molecules, cells, tissues, and organs in ways that were previously impossible. Moreover, researchers are able to investigate chronic conditions such as schizophrenia, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and obesity, as well as to develop new methodologies for identifying risk factors for disease and to develop new therapies for treating disease. A principal site of HST's biomedical imaging research is HST's Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. Investigators at the Martinos Center have pioneered techniques like fMRI (functional MRI, which takes advantage of MR-observable changes in blood oxygenation to infer neural activity) which are now used world-wide for neuroscience research. Work at the Martinos Center uses (and develops) advanced imaging technology, including MRI, MEG (magnetoencepholography), PET, and optical imaging to identify and characterize normal and abnormal function and to identify novel biomarkers of disease.

Biomedical Informatics And Integrative Biology. The striking advances of recent years in biomedical science and technology, e.g., genome data, protein structure, high resolution images at molecular and organ system scale, and population databases, have been attributable in large part to the ability of scientists to measure, organize, and analyze large volumes of data. HST research emphasizes combining data and knowledge resources in a variety of biomedical science domains and making connections across a range of biological scales - from genes and molecules (genomics and proteomics), to tissues and organ systems (molecular and macro-level imaging), to the living individual (healthcare practice), and to whole populations (epidemiology, health services research, public health, and population genetics). With two major NIH training grants and research programs in this emerging field, HST is at the forefront of biomedical informatics and integrative biology research.

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Regenerative And Functional Biomedical Technologies . HST researchers apply the rigors of the physical sciences to the harnessing and engineering of tissues, cells, and molecules. HST's objective in its work in functional biotechnologies is the cost-effective replacement of cell, tissue, and organ functions. A principal site of this work is the Harvard-MIT Biomedical Engineering Center, located in the heart of the MIT campus. With recent advances in the realm of nano- and microscale engineering, it is possible to precisely design and control systems at length scales comparable to biological cells and molecules. HST investigators are developing technologies leading to better understanding of biological phenomena and to the facilitation of diagnosis and treatment of disease. One of HST's major contributions in this area has been the development of drug eluting stents, programmable implantable devices that sense changes in local tissue or blood environments and respond in a "smart" way to deliver the appropriate amount of agent.

As We Look To The Future

It is widely anticipated that the emerging biomedical technologies, such as genome sequencing, biomedical imaging, tissue engineering, and nanobiotechnology, through the advance in technology and know-how, will give rise to an unprecedented leap in biomedical science and transform our approach to human health. Realizing and capitalizing on that potential is strongly linked to the educational paradigms that provide students with detailed knowledge of biology, engineering, and medicine, and comfort in their respective cultures. Currently HST enrolls more than 420 students in its eight graduate degree programs, all of which involve an integration of science, engineering, and medicine (and in some cases business), many of which are funded by NIH training grants in the focus areas outlined above. With programs like these and others at MIT, together with the enormous biomedical and clinical enterprises in the Boston/Cambridge area, the opportunity for profound advances has never been better.

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