UC Irvine Biomedical Engineering Center Revs for Industry Collaboration

by David E. Griffith, senior editor
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 and faculty.

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.



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