OSU, Providence to collaborate on bioengineering


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University and Providence Health System of Oregon have agreed to collaborate on bioengineering and biomedical research and education initiatives.

Representatives of the two organizations today signed a memorandum of understanding that is expected to pave the way for a closer relationship. The agreement will match OSU engineers, students and educators with researchers at the Providence St. Vincent Medical Center and the Providence Portland Medical Center.

Officials from the two organizations said the collaboration will boost research and hands-on education for students.

"The challenge of educating scientists and engineers mandates a new model in graduate education and training," said Russell E. Danielson, chief executive of Providence Health System. "Linking the academic environment with relevant experience in state-of-the-art instrumentation and methodologies is absolutely critical."

The agreement will focus research energies in critical bioengineering and biomedical areas.

The Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, for example, sponsors the Oregon Medical Laser Center, which is developing new uses for lasers - from surgical incisions to repairing torn livers and other organs. It also sponsors the Albert Starr Academic Center, where researchers are working on the use of robots to reduce the invasiveness of heart surgery.

"This academic link adds an essential ingredient to the training and research activities of the Providence Heart Institute, strengthening its position as a world class organization and regional powerhouse in cardiac care," said Dr. Albert Starr.

"The OSU College of Engineering can play a vital role not only in the development of this equipment, but in the processes used to create and replicate biomaterials," OSU President Paul Risser said. "We can provide the complementary engineering skills necessary and be a source of talent through our graduate students and faculty."

Though the agreement does not single out specific research projects, Ron Adams, dean of the OSU College of Engineering, said there is talk of expanding the robotic surgery concept to the university's College of Veterinary Medicine.

The technology exists, he says, to use robots with miniature instruments and micro-equipment to operate on large animals and do it remotely from Portland.

"A researcher in Portland could remotely operate the micro-instruments on a robotic arm and conduct surgery on a horse inside the veterinary hospital on the OSU campus," Adams said.

Officials said the agreement does not entail the merging of capital or other resources and will allow independent research efforts by either organization.

It is expected, however, that Providence Health System and the OSU College of Engineering will jointly apply for major grants, collaborate on research, improve professional education, and increase the number of students in the biomedical and bioengineering fields.

"Students will have an opportunity to expand their educational experiences by becoming actively involved in biomedical engineering, optics, robotics and biomaterials research," said John P. Lee, senior vice president for Providence Health System, Oregon, Alaska and California. "Their experiences through this collaboration will produce a diverse group of new scientists and engineers who are well-prepared for a broad spectrum of career opportunities.

"These may be in academia, health care, industry, national laboratories or other settings," he added. "They definitely will enhance Oregon's ability to build and maintain a globally competitive workforce."

Oregon State University and Providence Health System already are collaborating on one project. Under a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, OSU researchers in the College of Health and Human Performance are working with Providence medical centers on a study to reduce smoking among pregnant women.

OSU also is becoming more involved in the bioengineering field. The university is mid-way through a three-year, $1 million grant from the Whitaker Foundation to establish undergraduate and graduate programs in biomedical engineering on campus.