CORVALLIS - A three-year, $1 million grant that has been made from the Whitaker Foundation to Oregon State University will allow the creation of new degree programs and an official OSU educational and research center in bioengineering - a promising branch of engineering critical to many advances in medicine.
This ambitious initiative will involve close collaboration among OSU faculty and clinical partners at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis. The two institutions will also contribute substantial facilities, equipment, and redirection of OSU faculty efforts toward bioengineering.
The goal is innovation in health care technology and more students trained in this growing field. "The engineering profession is experiencing change in a number of ways, and the emergence of bioengineering as a formal discipline is one of these," said Joe McGuire, a professor at OSU and co-director of the new program along with Michelle Bothwell, an OSU associate professor.
"With strength in engineering and life sciences, and the cooperative arrangement with the Corvallis medical community, OSU is well positioned to become a leader in education and research in this field," McGuire said. "The advances will also be beneficial to Oregon biotechnology and biomedical companies that hope to grow their industries. There are no other programs of this type in Oregon."
Bioengineers, McGuire said, might create new ways to deliver drug therapies, design implantable devices for medical uses, engineer living tissue to replace lost metabolic function, and develop other types of technology that helps translate basic findings in the laboratory into working systems that can actually be used to improve human health care.
McGuire's own research, for example, has resulted in a patent describing use of an antimicrobial protein to coat material surfaces and form an effective barrier to harmful bacteria. Such coatings may one day reduce the possibility of infection from catheter implants, create more sterile operating rooms, or make food and pharmaceutical equipment and packaging resistant to dangerous bacteria.
The Whitaker Foundation, a Rosslyn, Va., charitable foundation, is the largest private source of support for biomedical engineering in the nation, McGuire said, and saw the potential for OSU to become a major new leader of innovation in this area.
About 30 OSU faculty from more than 10 departments will eventually participate in bioengineering research and education programs, along with physicians and other staff at Good Samaritan Hospital and The Corvallis Clinic.
The program will be an integral part of the new 35,000-square-foot Regional Heart Center being constructed by Good Samaritan Hospital, which is scheduled to be operative by late next year and will include three laboratories for OSU faculty and students to use in collaborative cardiovascular bioengineering activities.
Features of the program that will be created in the next three years include:
- OSU will develop and seek state approval for new masters and doctoral programs in bioengineering, and modify the existing undergraduate program to include both biotechnology and biomedical tracks in bioengineering.
- The university will hire three new tenure track faculty with expertise in biomaterials-biomechanics, cardiovascular engineering and tissue engineering.
- Approval for a new Center of Bioengineering will be sought from the Oregon University System, to coordinate teaching, interdisciplinary research activities, and educational outreach to pre-college students and the general public.
- Graduate training will include coursework, seminars, clinical conferences, research and a focused three-term, clinical course sequence at Good Samaritan Hospital.
- Renovations will be made in Graf Hall, a part of OSU's College of Engineering, to create 4,000 square feet of administrative, teaching laboratory and classroom space used to support activities of the new center.
- Instructional equipment will be purchased to support the new graduate and undergraduate programs.
"Several elements of our new educational programs are being modeled after approaches proven successful at some of the nation's best universities and medical schools," McGuire said. "In the past, Oregon students interested in this emerging field had to go elsewhere to get the type of educational experience they sought. Once our new degree programs are approved by the state system, which we hope will occur within about a year, students will be able to get what they need right here."
According to Wilson C. "Toby" Hayes, the OSU vice provost for research who was instrumental in the creation of this new program, this initiative should further expand OSU's collaboration with the health care and biomedical industries of Oregon.
"This program, along with the educational and research opportunities it will facilitate, are a major step forward for Oregon's growth in biomedicine," Hayes said. "It will be a real service to some of Oregon's brightest young student engineers, a partner for some of our fastest growing companies and an asset to everyone who wants American health care technology to be the best in the world."
"We're very grateful to the Whitaker Foundation for helping us to realize the opportunities here, to our new partners in the Corvallis medical community, and to our own faculty and administration who will turn this vision into reality," he said.