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Sept. 26, 2003

Purdue to build biomedical engineering facility, add program

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue will break ground on the university's first biomedical engineering building, making room to enlarge the faculty and graduate program and develop the university's first undergraduate program in the field.

Biomed groundbreaking
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The university also will pause to remember an Indiana leader who made it possible, the late Gov. Frank O'Bannon.

The $25 million biomedical engineering building – the first at any public institution in Indiana – will enable Purdue to expand the current Department of Biomedical Engineering into a full-fledged school. In doing so, Purdue is creating the state's first undergraduate program in biomedical engineering at a public university. The first undergraduate class will begin as sophomores next year, drawing from freshmen engineering students entering Purdue this fall. The graduate program will be expanded, and about 20 full-time faculty members will be added to the department's current six faculty.

A luncheon is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. today (Friday, 9/26) north of the Ray W. Herrick Laboratories, at State Street and Intramural Drive, followed by a 1 p.m. groundbreaking ceremony. Pending final state approval, construction is expected to begin during the spring and will be complete in the summer of 2006.

"Purdue's biomedical engineering program is a major factor in the state of Indiana's economic development," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke. "Indiana already has a base of leading high-tech companies that are grounded in biomedical engineering. This new facility will help us graduate students ready to join those firms, and it will provide the opportunities for discovery that will spin off even more of these companies or expand their product lines."

Indiana has grown into a globally recognized center for medical devices, including orthopedic products, diagnostics and cardiac implants, but the industry needs a steady supply of newly trained workers to continue its success, said Linda P.B. Katehi, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering.

The Indiana General Assembly has authorized Purdue to issue bonds to cover $13 million of the building's cost, also providing $2.5 million for the 2003-2004 fiscal year and $5 million the following fiscal year to develop the new undergraduate program and expand the graduate program.

The building's remaining cost of $12 million will be funded through private donations, including $5 million from the Whitaker Foundation, an independent foundation based in Arlington, Va. The foundation was established as a trust in 1975 to support primarily research and education in biomedical engineering. Grants are made mostly to universities and medical schools to support faculty research, graduate student education and educational program development.

Purdue will recognize the role that O'Bannon played in securing funding for the building. A plaque in his honor will be placed at the entrance. It reads:

"As Indiana's governor, Frank O'Bannon recognized that biomedical engineering and related disciplines held great potential for enhancing the health and welfare of the people of our state and for creating economic opportunity. His leadership was instrumental in securing the state support, which makes this building possible. Purdue University is profoundly grateful to Governor O'Bannon for his vision, his friendship and his lifetime of service to our state."

The new building will house modern laboratories for research ranging from the development of miniature medical devices and advanced diagnostic tools that can be implanted in the body, to better artificial joints and new materials used to repair damaged and diseased body parts.

"Breakthroughs in biology and engineering, over the past decade in particular, have brought these two fields together in previously unforeseen ways," Katehi said. "Biomedical engineering is now poised to attack some of the most difficult problems in medicine as they relate to preventing, diagnosing and treating disease."

Purdue biomedical engineering researchers are establishing reputations for pioneering work in a diverse variety of specialties. Although the department has six full-time faculty members, more than 30 scientists and engineers from other Purdue schools and the Indiana University School of Medicine are affiliated faculty members and are involved in biomedical engineering research.

doctoral student Rachel Price
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"The new building will be an integrative force to bring together current faculty, who are distributed all across campus, in a single teaching and research environment," said George Wodicka, head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and a professor of both electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering. "It will house laboratories and facilities in key research areas, many of which involve partnerships with Indiana medical device and biotech companies specializing in the orthopedic, cardiovascular and tissue engineering realms.

"These companies are growing rapidly, and their need for biomedical engineers continues to grow. That's the underpinning of why we are growing the graduate program and why we are starting a new undergraduate program."

Eventually, about 100 students will graduate annually from the program – 75 undergrads and 25 graduate students.

The department offices and some laboratories currently are located in the Potter Engineering Center, while other biomedical engineering labs and teaching facilities are spread across campus in various buildings.

"The new building will centralize many capabilities and allow us to grow rapidly," Wodicka said.

Purdue researchers have been national leaders in biomedical engineering, making discoveries over the past 15 years that have resulted in more than 50 U.S. patents and bringing in royalties that exceed those from all other Purdue royalty sources combined.

The work includes research to develop:

• New devices that monitor the vital signs of premature babies. The ringlike monitor slips over one finger and uses optical sensors to measure vital signs, including blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates.

• Synthetic and natural "biomaterials" used in surgery to repair and regenerate diseased or damaged tissues, such as bladders, blood vessels, ligaments, skin and eyes.

• Materials that might be used to create controlled-release pills and implantable devices that automatically deliver therapeutic drugs to the body.

• Better artificial joints and other orthopedic devices.

• Tiny sensors the size of dust particles that offer promise in future medical diagnostic tools, including new types of monitors that might be implanted in the body.

• Computer models that simulate the mechanical properties of soft tissues, such as those in the bladder and kidneys, which could lead to treatments for childhood disorders.

Modern communications features in the new building will enable researchers at Purdue and other institutions to work on joint projects remotely.

The building is going to be roughly 85,000 square feet, with three floors above ground and a basement. The first floor will be primarily used for undergraduate and graduate educational programs and will house instructional laboratories, advising and counseling offices, classrooms and meeting space for students. The second and third floors and the basement will mostly be used for research, housing six core research laboratories concentrating on Purdue's priority areas: biomaterials, biomechanics, bionanotechnology, tissue engineering, biomedical imaging and cardiovascular devices.

Together with facilities at Purdue's Discovery Park, the new biomedical engineering labs may anchor the West Lafayette portion of an expanded biomedical/biotechnology corridor in Indiana, said Michael Ladisch, a distinguished professor of biomedical engineering.

"This may not necessarily be a physical corridor, considering advances in networking and communications," said Ladisch, also a distinguished professor of agricultural and biological engineering. "I see the day when you are going to have a microscope in the biomedical engineering building with experiments jointly carried out by faculty from throughout the state and observed and monitored in a conference room setting at a remote location."

In addition to research activities, programs in biomedical engineering are critical for training future workers in the field. The new building will provide instructional labs that are better designed for hands-on education and team projects.

The building is being viewed as an "academic gateway" to Discovery Park. It will be located south of the Herrick Laboratories, between the park's Bindley Bioscience Center and what will eventually become a life sciences mall area. Discovery Park is a complex of facilities that will use a multidisciplinary approach to develop new technologies. The park will not only develop and use new technologies for industry, research and commerce, but also will benefit education by providing students with some of the nation's best laboratory facilities.

"I think it's appropriate that we are, in a sense, on the edge of both the academic portion of campus and the Discovery Park portion of campus," Wodicka said. "We embrace both missions. We are educating outstanding biomedical engineers, and we also are undertaking discovery research that has clear clinical value. We are working with the other components of both Discovery Park and the Office of Technology Commercialization to transfer new technologies into companies and thus into the development mode, and eventually into patient care."

Biomedical engineering capabilities in the building will help attract business to Indiana, while strengthening the state's presence in the international medical devices markets.

"Biomedical engineering is at the forefront of providing new medical implants that both monitor and treat disease," Wodicka said. "The new facility at Purdue will help the life science industry in Indiana, which will in turn improve the health and the welfare of the citizens of Indiana by making new medical technologies readily available. That's what biomedical engineering means: taking the science from the laboratory and putting it in the hands of the doctors to help people."

Wodicka said Purdue's push to expand its biomedical engineering presence dovetails with the university's recent growth in the area of nanotechnology. Both research areas deal with the design of devices down to features as small as a few nanometers, or billionths of a meter. Orthopedic parts and implantable devices function better and are less likely to be rejected by the body when their surfaces mimic the precise biological features of the tissue they are replacing. Through tissue engineering, researchers are designing features as small as a molecule for devices such as artificial bone and prosthetic joints.

"The key question in any implant that you are using is, 'How is the body reacting to it?' That question is best answered at a molecular level," Wodicka said. "How are the cells of the body reacting to the materials? You have to think on the nanometer scale to fully understand those types of issues."

Work carried out by biomedical engineering faculty will complement research at the new Birck Nanotechnology Center and Bindley Bioscience Center in Discovery Park.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Sources: Martin C. Jischke, (765) 494-9708

George Wodicka, (765) 494-2998, wodicka@ecn.purdue.edu

Linda P.B. Katehi, (765) 494-5346, katehi@purdue.edu

Michael Ladisch, (765) 494-7022, ladisch@ecn.purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

 

PHOTO CAPTION:
From left, Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington; Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale; Rep. William Cochran, D-New Albany; Linda P.B. Katehi, Purdue's dean of engineering; Purdue President Martin C. Jischke; Peter Katona, president and CEO of the Whitaker Foundation; George Wodicka, head of Purdue's Department of Biomedical Engineering; Purdue doctoral student Rachel Price; Marilyn Schultz, state budget director; and Sen. Robert Meeks, R-LaGrange take part in a ceremonial groundbreaking today (Friday, 9/26) on Purdue's new $25 million Biomedical Engineering building. The facility, the first at any public institution in Indiana, will enable Purdue to expand the current Department of Biomedical Engineering into a full-fledged school and create the state's first undergraduate program in biomedical engineering at a public university. (Purdue News Service photo/Dave Umberger)

PHOTO CAPTION:
Biomedical engineering doctoral student Rachel Price works on research headed by Thomas Webster, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering. The research is aimed at creating materials and surfaces that mimic the contours of real bone and other living tissue to improve prosthetic body parts, such as artificial joints and arteries. (Purdue News Service photo/Dave Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/webster.biomed.jpeg