Logo: University of Southern California

Biomedical Engineering Department Hosts First Grodins Lecture

Annual talk named in honor of the department's founding chair

November 01, 2007 — Douglas Lauffenburger, the Uncas and Helen Whitaker Professor of Bioengineering and director of MIT’s Biological Engineering Division, presented the Viterbi School Department of Biomedical Engineering’s first Grodins Keynote Lecture on Oct. 26, 2007 to a near capacity crowd in the Davidson Conference Center on campus.  
Douglas Lauffenburger,director of MIT’s Biological Engineering Division.

Lauffenburger’s talk, entitled “ Bioengineering and Systems Engineering: A Promising Intersection for Bioscience and Biotechnology,” drew faculty and students in a wide array of disciplines, including biomedical engineering, biology, biotechnology and the health sciences.

Lauffenburger, who also holds academic appointments in chemical engineering and biology at MIT, discussed recent advances in basic biology, at the molecular and cellular levels, that have dramatically increased scientists’ understanding of the mechanisms that operate biological systems.

He said a key challenge is the development of new ideas and methodologies to integrate information from the genomic level to higher levels of system organization, for both a fundamental scientific understanding and for the development of innovative new biotechnologies. 

Lauffenburger went on to discuss scientists' current understanding of how biomolecular networks translate cell environmental stimuli into intracellular signals, which regulate processes downstream and, ultimately, result in cell responses. The difficulty, he said, is determining how these intracellular signals are integrated to produce various types of cell behavior.

He used breast cancer cells as an example to illustrate the approach that he and his group at MIT have adopted to solve this problem.  They use techniques derived from systems engineering. The approach involves the combination of well-designed quantitative, dynamic protein-centric experimental measurements and interventions with a computational model to correlate cell phenotypic outcomes with the combined levels of activity in the multiple biochemical pathways.  That model was then used to correctly predict what would happen to other types of cells when exposed to the same stimuli.
Bartlett Mel, left, associate professor of biomedical engineering at USC, and Jerome Schulz, foreground, chair of bioengineering at UC Riverside, mingle with colleagues in Davidson Conference Center.

At a dinner reception held in the Vineyard Room of the Davidson Conference Center, Biomedical Department Chair Michael Khoo presented Lauffenburger with an honorary plaque in appreciation of his inaugural address. 

Guests at the reception included Jerome Schultz, chair of bioengineering, UC Riverside; Benjamin Wu, vice chair of bioengineering, UCLA; Alicia McDonough, director of the Systems Biology and Disease Program, Keck School of Medicine of USC; Larry Kedes, director of the Institute of Genetic Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC; Daniel Kamei, assistant professor of bioengineering, UCLA, who was a former postdoctoral fellow under Lauffenburger and one of his students; and members of the Biomedical Engineering advisory board. Board members included Soheila Mirhashemi, David Chonette and Richard Casaburi.

Lauffenburger received his B.S. from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, both in chemical engineering.  He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the winner of the W.H. Walker Award, the C.W. McGraw Award and the A.P. Colburn Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
USC BME Chair Michael Khoo, left, presents Prof. Lauffenburger of MIT with an honorary plaque for giving the inaugural address.

The Grodins Lecture was named in honor of the late Fred S. Grodins, who was the Biomedical Department’s founding chair.  Grodins’ 1963 publication, “Control Theory and Biological Systems,” is a landmark document on the earliest applications of engineering control theory to physiological systems.