UC Irvine Biomedical Engineering
Center Revs for Industry Collaboration
by David E. Griffith,
Spurred on by the promise of neurotechnology
and related industries, the University of California, Irvine's Center
for Biomedical Engineering has begun to look at ways of collaborating
with nearby industry. The institution's director, Steven C. George,
M.D., Ph.D, made a presentation in June to the Life
Sciences Industry Council of Orange County to inform the industry
of future research directions and expansion efforts.
Currently, the UCI biomedical engineering
(BME) program only offers an undergraduate minor as well as graduate
degrees. But that's about to change. Next year, the program, which
is housed in the School of Engineering, will begin a decade of rapid
growth when it offers its first undergraduate major. George says
UCI hopes to have 11 full-time BME faculty in place by 2003, and
25 full-time faculty by the end of the decade.
The schedule for the accelerated expansion
of the BME program at the Irvine campus is timed to accompany projected
growth of the biomedical industry in Orange County. George says
there are 150 biomedical and diagnostic device companies in Orange
County, and by the end of the decade growth in the industry is expected
to result in thousands of new jobs for biomedical engineers. The
mission of the UCI BME program is to train those engineers.
The BME program is designed to complement
the strengths of the UCI medical school, including opthalmology,
cardiology, oncology, and neuroscience. Accordingly, the three primary
research areas of the BME program are biophotonics, nanoscale systems,
and biomedical computation and imaging.
However, neurotechnology research
and education will be an important aspect of the program. "Neuroscience
is a major strength of the UCI Medical School," George says,
explaining that the combination of the neuroscience research at
the medical school and the Reed Irvine Center for Paralysis will
make neurotechnology a natural field of concentration for BME students
Though the biomedical engineering
program at UCI is not as established as other universities such
as Case Western Reserve, Duke, or USC, it has attracted a considerable
amount of attention from researchers and funding agencies. In 1999,
the program won a $3 million Whitaker Foundation Development Award.
"We were the least developed program to ever win the Development
Award," said George.
The first major neurotech research
at UCI is likely to be in the field of devices for artificial vision.
UCI's medical school is recognized for its opthalmology training
and biophotonics is one of the core areas of research at the BME
center. "The first faculty that we made an offer to was in
artificial vision," said George. The professor in question
declined the offer, but George says artificial vision research is
still a priority for the BME program.