UT Austin gains $3.6 million, medical partner for engineering

     With recent awards totaling $3.6 million, biomedical engineers at The University of Texas at Austin have promised to write the next generation of educational materials for their field and move healthcare advancements into the medical marketplace faster.

     Biomedical engineering, responsible for the now commonplace medical miracles of cardiac pacemakers and CT scans, marries technological innovation with medicine.

     A new partnership between UT Austin and the UT Medical Branch at Galveston, includes ambitious plans for web-based instruction and distance learning and has secured strong backing from the National Science Foundation and the Whitaker Foundation.

     “UT Austin's 30-year-old biomedical engineering program has long been ready for this next step in its maturation,” said Dr. Ken Diller, director of the new Center for Biological and Medical Engineering. “This is now possible thanks to a medical partnership it lacked in the past.”

     Ten medical branch faculty have been appointed to tenured positions with the new UT Austin Center for Biological and Medical Engineering which will be the hub of this collaboration. The University will also recruit 12 new faculty for the Center to establish a world-class program in cellular and molecular bioengineering.

     Telecommunications technology and web-based instruction will bridge the 220-mile distance in effect making the Austin and Galveston campuses one.

     “The need for this team effort is fueled by public and private demand in the growing bio-technology industry,” says College of Engineering Dean Ben G. Streetman. “One study estimates that 25 percent of all manufacturing will be bioengineering based by the year 2020 as developments in medical technology build upon themselves.”

     The Center secured $2.6 million from the National Science Foundation and $1 million from the Whitaker Foundation. Obtaining Whitaker's support is significant for The University because the foundation is noted for the quality and selectivity of biomedical engineering research that it supports. The NSF grant will go specifically for UT's optical bioengineering program. Whitaker funds are going toward the integration of cellular and molecular biology with biomedical engineering leading to new applications in clinical medicine. The Whitaker Special Opportunity Award will be used to hire new faculty, develop new courses, and attract top graduate students.

     The specific areas of research that UT Austin professors are currently exploring include: molecular and cellular bioengineering; optical and thermal bioengineering; biomechanics and rehabilitation; and physiology and cardiovascular systems.

     Nationwide optical engineering has shown exceptional success in new medical applications and UT faculty have led the effort. Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum has developed a noninvasive and accurate imaging technique to detect cervical cancer. Dr. A.J. Welch's laser treatments correct the port wine stain birthmark.

     Diller's biological heat transfer research includes exploring ways to freeze tissues for long-term organ preservation, to make them available for transplantation when thawed.