B.E.N.@PENN: Linking Researchers Across Disciplines

The links between researchers on campus have just become a little more visible with the launch of B.E.N.@Penn, the web site for the Biological Engineering Network (B.E.N.) at Penn. The site--based on a server at the Institute for Medicine and Engineering (IME), a B.E.N. member--connects researchers and clinicians at the School of Medicine with researchers at SEAS and SAS.

The site gives a public face to the interdisciplinary infrastructure already in place and operating on campus. This perspective promotes the interactions of biomedical researchers, such as engineers, physicists and chemists, to provide fresh insight into some of the most intractable problems in the life sciences. B.E.N.@PENN serves as a gateway to centralized information on interdisciplinary research, training and education, where researchers can keep each other appraised of their work and inspire further research and collaboration.

"B.E.N.@PENN describes, in a real way, how truly interconnected the life sciences and the physical sciences are," said Professor of Pathology Dr. Peter F. Davies, IME director and lead coordinator for B.E.N.@PENN. "Through these efforts, we're building a new way of looking at the biology of living organisms--from the molecular level upward." According to Dr. Davies, the ongoing scientific investigations are of an immense scope. They range from manipulations of single proteins to tissue engineering, via areas as diverse as structural biology, quantitative genomics, condensed matter physics, and material sciences. The research also goes beyond the laboratory to the operating room and clinical practice, as network members delve into new materials and systems for developing cutting edge techniques, such as minimally invasive surgery, medical imaging, and advanced prosthetics.

"We are making leaps in biomedical research that we did not even think possible 20, even 10, years ago," said Dr. Davies. "And this is entirely due to the collaborative efforts of individuals from traditionally separate areas of research."

In a sense, B.E.N.@PENN is a meta-network that has brought together the shared goals and practices of an array of different efforts at the crossroads of the life and physical sciences. "We are all on the same campus," said Dr. Davies, "so we are fortunate to have an incredible resource--each other--and our facilities are all within walking distance of one another."

A decade ago, Penn recognized the potential for interdisciplinary research and led the nation by establishing major interdisciplinary resources on a single urban campus. As one of the first universities in America to seek the interdisciplinary approach, Penn's efforts have had a lasting impact on how academic researchers study biomedicine, and today's interdisciplinary frontier is recognized as the mainstream of the future with quantitative sciences fully integrated into biomedicine. The research investment has continued to be successful--B.E.N.@PENN members have annual grant revenue in excess of $100 million.

B.E.N@PENN members include: Institute for Medicine and Engineering, Department of Bioengineering, Center for Bioinformatics, Center for Human Modeling and Simulation, Institute for Environmental Medicine, Johnson Research Foundation, Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter, Pennsylvania Muscle Institute, TraumaLink, Central Nervous Systems Injury Laboratory, Neuroengineering Research Laboratory, The McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, Pennsylvania Regional Laser and Biotechnology Laboratories, Center for Minimally Invasive Therapy, Center for Health Informatics at Penn, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Department of Physics and the Department of Cardiology at CHOP. In addition, B.E.N.@PENN members have ties to, and collaborate extensively with, many other departments, centers, and institutes throughout Penn.

Visit the site at: www.upenn.edu/ben-penn/.

Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 18, January 16, 2001