Biotechnology Process Engineering Center

The Biotechnology Process Engineering Center (BPEC), as a National Science Foundation (NSF) engineering research center, is a multidisciplinary 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 fusing engineering with molecular cell biology by emphasizing strategic problem solving in interdisciplinary research, education, and biotechnology industry interaction. The center's vision is to define the engineering/biology partnership needed to create a "therapeutic gene" biotechnology industry. BPEC models its role in the development of this industry on its past success in influencing the ongoing "therapeutic protein" biotechnology industry. This will be achieved through innovations in research, the graduating of highly prepared students into important roles at biotech companies, and through our active exchanges with key partners in the industry.

BPEC's strategic plan focuses on two major engineered-system objectives to achieve successful transgene delivery and expression to blood and tissue cells. The first is an ex vivo approach employing genetically engineered stem cells to lay a basis for replacement therapies of injured tissues. Examples of treatment potential include degenerative diseases such as diabetes and the repair of tissues injured through trauma or stress, as in spinal cord injuries. The second is an in vivo approach employing targeted viral or synthetic vectors. This research attempts to identify or create compounds that will protectively shuttle therapeutic DNA to targeted cells. Once the DNA is safely delivered to the compromised cell's nucleus, therapeutic gene expression can result. Advances could give rise to noninvasive, curative treatments for any affliction that would benefit from the cellular production of new proteins—such as cancers—and also to preventative DNA vaccines that can arrest the onset of disease altogether.

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 the Biological Engineering Division (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, National Institutes of Health (NIH) training programs in biotechnology and in genomics are administered from the BPEC office, leveraging the NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) to broader educational opportunities at the engineering/molecular-biology interface. Undergraduate research is achieved through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) for MIT students and the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) 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 Matt Croughan, industrial liaison officer.

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The Student/Postdoctoral Leadership Council's (SLC) activities are at an all-time BPEC high for centerwide participation and impact. These activities include a well-attended monthly seminar series highlighting the research of the BPEC and MIT faculty, as well as the research of BPEC's industrial member representatives. The Industrial Consortium Advisory Board (ICAB) continues to operate to great mutual benefit, including specific research collaborations. We have begun collaborations with the Cambridge Public Schools in building K–12 outreach, along with continuing our summer REU Program and the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Program. We are formulating conceptual underpinnings of a plan toward attaining self-sufficiency status within approximately two 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. A total of 125 people took part in BPEC's NSF research strategic plan during fiscal year 2003.

As the DuPont-MIT Alliance (DMA) progresses through its fourth year of funding in 2003, DMA credits its effectiveness to the synergy between its research and education programs. This fact is acknowledged through its support of graduate students who are named as DuPont Fellows in their first year of study at MIT. This year's 20 incoming students named as fellows bring the total number of fellowships to 74 in 10 academic departments: Biology, Biological Engineering, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science(EECS), the Technology and Policy Program , Physics, and the Sloan School of Management. After their first year, the graduate students are supported by the funded research programs of their Faculty thesis advisors.

There is a unique cooperation between DuPont and MIT to promote the basic principle of cutting-edge collaborative research that will have a significant impact on the long-term commercial goals of DuPont and the continuously evolving educational culture of MIT. The close relationship of DuPont and MIT is fostered through the multidisciplinary team effort in the alliance research program. Twenty-four projects have been sponsored, and each has had one or two DuPont investigators as a liaison who works closely with MIT investigators on the individual projects. The portfolio of projects is reviewed and revised annually by the Steering Committee. At present there are 46 principal investigators and 43 graduate students. The following 15 departments and centers across campus have received funding from DMA over the past four years: Biology, Biological Engineering, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, the Center for Biomedical Engineering, the Research Laboratory of Electronics, Ocean Engineering, the Sloan School, Mechanical Engineering, Physics, the Center for Learning and Memory, the School of Science, EECS, and the Whitehead Institute.

The process of white papers and proposal submission relies on the participation of the MIT Internal Advisory Committee (IAC). We gratefully acknowledge their assistance in reviewing 98 white papers and 35 proposals over the past four years. The present IAC member list includes Professors Yet-Ming Chiang, Rebecca Henderson, Barbara Imperiali, Klavs Jensen, Philip Sharp, Anthony Sinskey, and Bruce Tidor.

The DMA has sponsored 15 research papers and three patent applications. As the alliance continues to grow, DMA remains dedicated to the principles of novelty and excellence in the research program.

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Educational Outreach


BPEC has established a close collaboration with the East End House, which is located in Cambridge and is a not-for-profit, multiservice community center and social service agency. Ms. Katy Wack, a BPEC graduate student, initiated the link to BPEC and is a volunteer at the center.

In the summer of 2002, Professor James Sherley gave a "Careers in Biological Engineering" lecture for the Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Science (MITE2S) Program students. In March 2003, the BPEC Student Leadership Council played host to High Tech Health, which is an after-school internship program for female high school students who are interested in exploring careers in the health care field involving emerging technology. A number of SLC representatives also served as judges and scientific advisors at the 11th Annual MIT/Cambridge Science Expo.

Another significant BPEC K–12 outreach program held during the summer 2002 was the Research Experience for Teachers. A high school teacher from the Hartford, Connecticut, Public High Schools participated in the program for six weeks under the supervision of Professors Linda G. Griffith and Robert Langer.

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.

Undergraduate Outreach

BPEC continued to participate in MIT's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program by directly funding or sponsoring 41 students to work on BPEC projects.

BPEC continued its commitment to undergraduate education by participating in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program. Eight non-MIT undergraduate students worked on BPEC projects, developed presentation skills, and gave research presentations. In addition, they attended a scientific integrity/ethics seminar/workshop led by Professor Stephanie Bird.

Graduate Outreach

The NIH Biotechnology Training Program (BTP), now in its 14th 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. Professor K. Dane Wittrup serves as director and principal investigator; Ms. Darlene Ray, BPEC's education coordinator, is the administrator for this program. The NIH BTP provides funds to support 20 predoctoral 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 work 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, 22 faculty members participate in the program from the Biological Engineering Division and the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Mathematics. Five BPEC faculty members are currently participating in the BTP. They are Professors Griffith, Langer, Lauffenburger, Sherley, and Wittrup.

In addition to the outreach activities described above, BPEC has participated in several activities that involve dissemination of the research and educational accomplishments of BPEC to other academic institutions. For example, BPEC, along with the Georgia Tech/Emory Center for the Engineering of Living Tissues and the University of Washington's Engineered Biomaterials Engineering Research Center cosponsored a four-day winter conference in the field of tissue engineering.

BPEC faculty members have continued to lead special one-week summer courses to industrial personnel on and off campus.

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Administrative Initiatives

We have substantially increased the participation of BPEC faculty in events organized by student groups, including the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), the National Organization of Black Chemists and Engineers, and the Society of Women Engineers. Professor James Sherley assumed the role of primary faculty advisor for the MIT student chapter of the BMES in fall 2002 and coordinates joint BPEC-BMES activities. He succeeds Professor Griffith, who was advisor from 1995 to 2002 and remains associate advisor. Mr. Daniel Darling, BPEC's outreach/events coordinator, serves as a trustee to BMES. The BMES student chapter initiated a web-based internship program in spring 2002, in collaboration with most of the BPEC Industrial Consortium Advisory Board members. Several BPEC faculty members have made presentations at BMES seminars and social events.

Finances and Funding

BPEC is pleased to announce that after passing the last NSF critical site visit, the center's NSF Cooperative Agreement was extended for the period September 1, 2002through August 31, 2005. Two additional site visits will be conducted and used as a tool to make sure the center continues to focus on its mission and goals.

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Future Plans


It is BPEC's plan to continue its participation in the RET program organized in connection with the MIT New England Science Teachers Program. NSF RET funding for three teachers has already been received for fiscal year 2004. It is also BPEC's plan to continue its outreach to MIT undergraduates through UROP. In addition, funding for BPEC REU students was received for FY2004.

A competing renewal to the NIH for the Biotechnology Training Program was submitted in FY2003. Funding for an additional five years is anticipated beginning with FY2004.

BPEC will continue its involvement in the MITE2S and BMES Programs. In addition, the center will become more involved with the Cambridge East End House.


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 (BME). With this program, an MIT undergraduate can obtain his or her SB degree in any major, along with an 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. This might provide one facet of our strategy aiming toward ultimate self-sufficiency status.


BPEC's plan for self-sufficiency includes a mix of funding from industry, government, and other sources. Several projects have either already been funded by industry or are in intermediate to advanced states of discussion for funding under the BPEC aegis.

Personnel Changes

A change in leadership of BPEC is planned for fiscal year 2004. Professor Douglas A. Lauffenburger will pass his BPEC directorship to Professor Linda G. Griffith as of FY2004. Professor Lauffenburger will remain with the center as a BPEC faculty member and the executive director of development. Professor K. Dane Wittrup will become the executive director for education, relieving Professor Griffith of these duties as she becomes the center's director.

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Personnel Information

Leadership in the Field and Involvement with Others

There are many indicators that demonstrate how BPEC is recognized and respected as a national center for 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 FY2003 participated in 6 short courses to industry and lead 22 seminars. In addition, 25 publications were published in technical journals.

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 FY2003. A significant number of the BPEC Faculty has been recognized by invited distinguished lectureships across the country, major awards and prizes, and election as fellows in professional societies.

A third indicator is the strong interest in hiring BPEC graduates into academic faculty positions and at industrial sites 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.

Dr. Csani Varga, a recent BPEC graduate, accepted a position at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, and Jose Otero, a BPEC and BE MEng graduate, accepted a position at Merck, Inc.

BPEC held an alumni event in FY2003 where 20 BPEC alumni, covering graduate years from 1987 to the present, were in attendance. Our industrial liaison officer presented an address on the significant impacts BPEC graduates have had in the pharmaceutical and health care industries. The BPEC staff took advantage of this rare opportunity by capturing on video a commentary from each alumnus who attended. The alumnae testimonials showed how BPEC's interdisciplinary research and education gave them a unique edge when entering their chosen field.

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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