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The acronym MEMS stands for “Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems.” A MEMS device often contains microscopic mechanical, electrical and/or optical elements on silicon substrates. One of the most common examples of MEMS devices is the sensors used in automobile airbags. BioMEMS applies the MEMS technology to biomedical applications. It makes possible the production of miniature, automated, and low-cost biomedical devices (for instance, some lab-on-a-chip devices).

Network Analysis

The BioMEMS Resource Center, based in the Boston, Massachusetts area, was created with federal money from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  NIH serves as the main federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research.  One component of NIH, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), funded BioMEMS in 2004, providing the grant to the Center for Engineering in Medicine (CEM), a state-of-the-art research facility located on the campus of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).  The CEM used the grant to establish the BioMEMS Center also located on the MGH campus.  The BioMEMS center is considered a part of the CEM, MGH, as well as the Harvard Teaching Hospitals.  Other academic partners also include the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and the Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) of MIT.

The MGH is one of the premier medical research institutes in the US with an annual research budget of over $220M. Consistently ranked as one of the top three full-service hospitals in the US over the past ten years, the MGH has been, throughout its history, the undisputed leader in research, teaching, and technological innovation.  The CEM grew out of a one-room laboratory at the MGH and in 1997, was awarded a $2.5M Development Award from the Whitaker Foundation. In 2000 the group moved to its current headquarters, a 660-m2state-of-the-art laboratory in Building 114 on the MGH East Campus in the Charlestown suburb of Boston.  At any one time, more than 20 individual research projects are underway at the CEM; these projects are supported by more than $7M in research grants annually.

The CEM’s NIH-supported BioMEMS Resource Center is a truly unique facility, which provides CEM investigators unfettered access to state-of-the-art micromachining tools for a myriad of biological applications.  The MGH serves as the lead institution and administrative center for the CEM.  The BioMEMS Resource Center is physically split between two locations:  the Shriners Hospital for Children and the BioMEMS center at MGH (at the Charlestown Navy Yard).  BioMEMS has 9 collaborative projects which supplement its 3 core programs.  The collaborative projects involve Stanford University, Michigan State University, Rutgers University, the University of Florida, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Brown University, MGH, Harvard University, Pacific Northwest National Lab, and Albany Medical.  These programs are funded by NIH, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Whitaker Foundation.

The principal investigator for the BioMEMS Center is Dr. Mehmet Toner, Ph.D.  He has received funding from the NIH, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency (DARPA), the Whitaker Foundation, the National Textiles Center, and other industry groups.  Over the last 4 years, he has averaged ~ $1.7M annually in grants from NIH institutes.  His resume also includes government-agency advisory positions at NSF and DARPA.  He also serves as a scientific adviser to biotechnology and medical device companies including Chicago-based Maroon Biotech Inc.  Additional affiliations for Dr. Toner include advisory boards of Artemis Health, CellPoint Diagnostics, Tissue Engineering Center (TERC), Maroon Biotech, and the New Jersey Center for BioMaterials RESBIO Program.

Dr. Martin Yarmush, another leading researcher at the BioMEMS Center, has received an average of ~ $1.1M annually from NIH grants.  Dr. Yarmush’s affiliations include advisory board positions at Switch2Health as well as chairman and founding partner for the scientific advisory board of Molecmo.

Industry Connections

According to lab officials, BioMEMS does not have any relationships with pharmaceutical companies and has no industrial funding.  However, some of the individual researchers do have private consulting relationships that may be with pharma companies.  Currently, BioMEMS receives funding only from government agencies and foundations.  They do not have any pending proposals with industry and thus have no non-competitive agreements.  Dr. Toner, the principal investigator, stated that he prefers federal research funding as opposed to private dollars because federal money “comes with no strings attached.”

In the last 3 years, Dr. Toner has formed 2 companies with venture capital monies.  Industry firms observe the ongoing programs at BioMEMS, but wait until a technology has been proven effective before stepping in with venture capital.

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