University of Rochester

$1 Million Grant Helps Establish Biomedical Engineering Program

December 6, 1996

Less than three months after winning state approval, the University of Rochester's new graduate program in biomedical engineering received a significant endorsement with a grant of nearly $1 million from the Whitaker Foundation. The award will play a key role in the development of biomedical engineering as a research and teaching strength in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

"This grant will allow unprecedented interaction between the faculties of our engineering and medical schools," says SEAS Dean Duncan Moore. "The University is already home to a wide range of biomedical research, from the creation of new medical instruments to a greater understanding of the human body. Greater collaboration among these researchers in the teaching of students forms the basis for a remarkable program."

The field of biomedical engineering, where engineers and physicians combine engineering and medical knowledge to solve medical problems and improve human health, has flourished recently as the population ages and engineers continue to discover new ways to use engineering approaches to understand and aid processes within the human body. Rochester's master's and doctoral program in biomedical engineering just won approval from New York State in August. "This grant represents an even more resounding seal of approval," Moore says.

The $986,000 grant, to be distributed over three years beginning on January 1, will provide for the creation of a new teaching laboratory where students will learn techniques in molecular, cell, and tissue engineering. Students will use the lab to conduct experiments in topics such as the ability of blood vessels to withstand physical stress, or the biomechanics of single blood cells and their role in blood flow and viscosity. These play important roles in helping physicians understand how the heart works and how our bodies maintain blood pressure and transport oxygen to our tissues.

The grant also will allow the University to recruit three new faculty members with expertise in molecular, cell, and tissue engineering to the schools of engineering and medicine, and to help establish their research and teaching programs. They'll join nearly three dozen faculty members who teach biomedical courses and work on a wide range of topics, including medical imaging, creation of an artificial bone marrow system, and the mechanics of the heart.

"We already have a very strong presence in biomedical engineering at Rochester," says Richard Waugh, professor of mechanical engineering, biophysics, and pharmacology and physiology and director of graduate studies for the new program. "This grant will help us build a truly top-notch program."

Waugh notes that several of the most highly regarded biomedical engineering programs in the country have developed in an environment similar to Rochester's, where a relatively small engineering school can work with a large, research-oriented medical school. "Strength in a specific field can really help a small engineering school like Rochester," Waugh adds. "Looking down the road, we expect biomedical engineering to play an important part in enhancing the University's reputation for high- quality training in the engineering sciences."

Participants will include members of all four engineering departments (chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineering, and optics) and faculty from pharmacology and physiology, anesthesiology, dermatology, and other departments at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, as well as researchers at the Rochester Center for Biomedical Ultrasound.

Waugh says that educational programs in biomedical engineering have enjoyed a boom in the last decade because of a new idealism among students coming out of high school. "They're excited about the possibility of using technology to help mankind," he says, "and many of them see biomedical engineering as a way to accomplish this."

Waugh adds that the Whitaker Foundation, which has awarded millions of dollars to such programs in biomedical engineering, has also been instrumental in the rapid development of the field.

The biomedical engineering program will enroll its first six graduate students next year, and approximately six more graduate students are expected to enroll in each subsequent year. Faculty also plan to eventually offer a major in biomedical engineering to undergraduates as well.