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May 2007 Issue

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National Science Foundation–Funded Biomedical Research Center Launched at UC

By Amanda Harper
Published May 2007

Balakrishna Haridas, PhD, spent more than a decade designing biomedical devices for companies like Medtronic, Boston Scientific and Ethicon Endo-Surgery.

Now, as director of UC’s newly established Minimally Invasive Medical Technologies Center (MIMTeC), Haridas will lead the translational research that enables those same companies to bring the next generation of minimally invasive medical technologies to market. The center’s creation is the result of two years of collaborative efforts between UC’s biomedical engineering department and the Center for Surgical Innovation. Chuck Doarn, associate professor of surgery, serves as administrative director.

Haridas, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and his team recently secured a total of $1 million to establish MIMTeC through a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Industry/University Cooperative Research Center program and membership fees from a handful of national biomedical device companies. This cooperative research center allows competing biomedical companies to pool larger amounts of money to fund research on technologies they all need to advance their minimally invasive interventions, but were previously investing in independently.

Biomedical companies commit to at least a three-year, renewable membership in MIMTeC, which entitles them to propose, review and vote on research projects that may benefit the entire group.

“By collaborating with academia to conduct unbiased research,” explains Haridas, “industry stakeholders can share the cost of developing new medical technologies and methods that are applicable to each company’s product development efforts. When the research is complete, all industry partners have access to the information, but no one company has sole ownership.”

Current industry members include Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Procter and Gamble, Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Cordis, the U.S. Army and Greatbatch.

Haridas expects the center to fund about six projects a year, split equally between UC and its institutional collaborator, the University of Minnesota. As membership grows and more companies join the center, he expects the research funding—and the number of projects—to increase.

Most projects will fall into one of four broad research themes—tools and algorithms to measure in vivo properties of tissues and organs; laboratory and computational models of tissues and device interactions that mimic in vivo conditions; instrumentation design for image-guided interventions; and miniature embedded sensors (nanotechnology) used to measure the biophysical properties of device-tissue interactions during surgery.

“We’re looking at specific design methods and experimental techniques that can be used to test new interventions—for example, computer-simulated scenarios to predict how human tissue responds to a device made of a specific material,” explains Haridas.

These themes fall in line with the center’s goal of developing fundamental enabling technologies that U.S. companies can use to develop minimally invasive interventions.

“It’s a great model because it gives our industry partners access to unbiased research, and it gives the university countless opportunities for students to get hands-on training in biomedical research relevant to industry,” he adds.

“At the same time, the underlying model for the center allows for public disclosure of research in the form of publications in a timely fashion and allows students working at the center to disseminate the research results.”

Haridas says the benefits to UC go far beyond the increased number of royalty licenses that will be attained through these research projects.

“A tremendous amount of synergy will be built through this center,” he says. “And it’s not just within the biomedical engineering department. It’s collaboration between the colleges of engineering and medicine, between industry and academia, between our students and industry.”

Being an NSF-designated research center also allows UC to apply for much larger grants from the federal government that would allow UC to gain matching funds from industry for cooperative research projects. Not to mention the fact that all this research provides training opportunities for students that will help prepare them for careers in the biomedical industry.

“The expanded learning opportunities that MIMTeC provides will essentially allow us to mold the next generation of the biomedical engineering workforce,” adds Haridas.

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