Interinstitutional Biomedical Engineering Department created by University of Texas System components

May 17, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas—To strengthen the state’s biotechnology capabilities, three institutions of The University of Texas System are combining resources to form a new biomedical engineering department to operate in Houston and Austin.

The new department will officially open Sept. 1, joining the educational and research programs of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin with resources at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

“Combining the strength of the UT System’s largest research university with two major components of the largest medical center in the world provides a tremendous opportunity to translate basic research into medical advances that benefit the citizens of Texas and beyond,” said Sheldon Ekland-Olson, executive vice president and provost of The University of Texas at Austin.

The current Department of Biomedical Engineering in Austin is part of an engineering college that ranks among the top seven public engineering schools nationally, and has the fourth highest number of faculty elected to the National Academy of Engineering. The department educates future biomedical engineers and has premier faculty engaged in leading research in many areas critical to the development of new health care technologies.

“What we bring to the table is highly skilled faculty and students in the areas of medical imaging and instrumentation, biomaterials that are being developed on the molecular, cellular and tissue scales, and computational modeling and analysis capabilities that can be applied to medical issues,” said Kenneth R. Diller, chair of biomedical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and holder of the Robert M. and Prudie Leibrock Endowed Professorship in Engineering. “This new department enables us to excel in both fundamental research and its translation to clinical applications.”

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has ranked among the top two cancer hospitals by U.S. News & World Report magazine for more than a decade, and treats more than 70,000 persons annually. About a third of the center’s patients come from outside Texas, and all have access to the largest clinical trials program in the nation.

“With the tremendous progress made in understanding cancer and other complex health conditions, it is vital that we have tools, materials and devices to complement new therapies, surgical techniques, imaging technologies and basic science advancements,” said Charles Patrick, deputy chair, ad interim. “We are entering an age of medicine that will take detection, treatment and prevention to the molecular and patient-specific levels and we must have the talent pool and expertise to develop and perfect the technologies needed to leverage this knowledge and care for patients.”

The University of Texas Health Science Center has pursued a comprehensive approach to health since 1972. It is composed of six schools, a psychiatric center and the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases.

The Health Science Center elements of the new department will be housed in the new University of Texas Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging Research, planned for construction at the UT Research Park/South Campus.

“The UT Health Science Center at Houston will provide the medical school component in this department, which will have importance for our physician scientist (M.D./Ph.D.) trainees in biomedical engineering,” said Dr. Peter Davies, executive vice president for research. “We will see a growing strength in biomedical engineering aspects of the neurosciences, imaging and cardiovascular medicine—as well as in the unique features of our School of Health Information Sciences and its role in applying computer sciences and informatics to issues of health research.”

Much of the ad interim leadership structure for the new department is expected to be in place by Sept. 1. The department will be an academic unit in the College of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, with equivalent units in Houston at M. D. Anderson and the Health Science Center. A national search will be initiated for a department chair, with deputy chairs for each campus. The chair will report to an oversight committee consisting of: Ben Streetman, dean of the College of Engineering in Austin; Dr. Margaret Kripke, executive vice president and chief academic officer at M. D. Anderson; and Dr. L. Maximilian Buja, executive vice president for academic affairs at the Health Science Center.

Biomedical nanotechnology pioneer Mauro Ferrari will serve as an interim deputy chair of the new department and provide additional expertise from the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases. Ferrari, who recently joined the UT Health Science Center as a professor of nanotechnology, also will be president of the Alliance for NanoHealth, a collaborative venture of seven Houston-area research institutions.

About 30 faculty will hold primary appointments in the new department as of September, while still residing at their home institution. Most department faculty in Austin will move by early 2008 into the new 140,000-square-foot Biomedical Engineering building being built at the corner of University Avenue and Dean Keaton Street. (Rendition of the Biomedical Engineering building is available online.)

The University of Texas Center for Biomedical Engineering, formerly a collaboration between The University of Texas at Austin, M. D. Anderson and the UT Health Science Center at Houston, will become part of the new department and will be renamed the Engineering Center for Medical Applications (ECMA). Dr. Michelle Follen of M. D. Anderson will be director of ECMA, which will have expanded programs for translating laboratory discoveries into clinical applications, for interfacing with institutions outside the UT System and for building cooperative arrangements with industrial partners.

The new Biomedical Engineering Department will foster interinstitutional interactions through formal programs and incentives that include: providing seed grants for new research collaborations, facilitating multi-investigator research and training-grant proposals, and providing special educational programs and internships, distance-learning classes and teleconferenced seminars. 

Undergraduate degrees in biomedical engineering will continue to be given in Austin under the direction of University of Texas at Austin biomedical engineering faculty. All three institutions will continue offering graduate level degree programs, which will now include cross-institutional student participation. Students may live in Austin or Houston, pursuing studies at whichever institution best meets their tailored educational goals.

For more information contact: Becky Rische, College of Engineering, 512-471-7272; Scott Merville, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, 713-792-0655.