Emory Report

 November 17, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 13

Emory, Tech create joint
biomedical engineering department

Atlanta took one step closer to making its bid to join Silicon Valley, Route 128, and the Research Triangle as a research and economic powerhouse with the announcement of a joint biomedical engineering department between Emory and Georgia Tech.

The announcement was made following a 10-year process of developing a collaborative relationship between the two institutions. The new, joint department-one of very few such academic collaborations in the nation-merges two of the country's leading research universities in an effort to stay ahead of the pack in the competitive arena of biomedical engineering. From University of California, Berkeley, to Johns Hopkins, Michigan and Southwest Texas universities, institutions around the nation see the intellectual and financial benefits of biomedical research and the potential the arena holds for coveted, high-tech economic growth.

The genesis of the new department was the establishment in 1987 of a joint Biomedical Technology Research Center, followed in 1990 by the creation of the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA), a nonprofit group pooling the state's resources in education, industry and government. In 1995 the two institutions established a joint MD/PhD program, with the medical degree awarded by Emory and the doctorate in bioengineering awarded by Georgia Tech.

Both Emory and Georgia Tech continue their climb into the elite of national universities, as reported in U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best College Rankings" and elsewhere.

"To have two universities within 10 miles of one another rank among the very best universities in the nation is a real plus for Atlanta," said Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough. "When you look at areas of the country that excel in economic development, you will almost always find a core of outstanding universities at the center. From the Silicon Valley in California to the Research Triangle in North Carolina, to Route 128 in Boston, it is the Stanfords, the North Carolinas and the MITs that have a profound impact on economic development and quality of life. I think the collective reputations that Emory and Georgia Tech bring to this unique biomedical engineering department can help the Atlanta area further improve our economic situation and quality of life."

President Bill Chace spent his early years in academia at Stanford where he learned to appreciate the "power of such partnerships," he said.

"This new department will enable Emory and the Georgia Institute of Technology to move into a very small group of national institutions able to draw together the diverse resources involved in biomedical engineering," Chace said. "It will encourage our researchers to work together in a seamless way in a new field that possesses great promise. Adding two strong Georgia universities to that club is good for the state of Georgia and, we believe strongly, for higher education in general."

Research in biomedical engineering holds the potential for major breakthroughs in medicine, basic science and applied technology. Innovations in medical imaging, computer-assisted surgery, innovative medical devices and more efficient delivery of drugs to disease sites will be research pursuits for the new department.

"One of the measures of the potential of the rapidly expanding area of biomedical engineering is its identification by the National Institutes of Health as a critical area for support," said Thomas Lawley, dean of the School of Medicine. "The creation of this department will allow Emory and Georgia Tech to become more competitive for such funding. But more importantly, it will enable us to strengthen a number of existing shared programs with Georgia Tech, conduct research that will impact the health of our patients and enhance the training of our students and residents."

Don Giddens, former chair of the Johns Hopkins College of Engineering, is one of the architects of the new department and will assume its chairmanship. "From building upon recent advances in breast cancer detection by dramatically improving internal imaging and cell analysis, to earlier detection of Alzheimer's disease, to dramatically reducing the trauma of surgery, biomedical engineering holds vast potential," Giddens said.

Michael Johns, executive vice president for health affairs, worked with Giddens at Johns Hopkins, where Johns oversaw the development of a technology transfer program widely considered a model of its kind.

"With the return of Don Giddens to Atlanta and the establishment of this new academic biomedical engineering program between two strong and ambitious universities, we believe we have taken enormous steps forward in establishing Georgia as a biotechnology capital," Johns said.

The chair of the new department will report jointly to the dean of medicine and the dean of engineering at Georgia Tech, a structure unique in higher education. Current plans for the new academic unit call for 18 faculty, with 12 tenure track faculty from Georgia Tech and six from Emory. The plan is to fill all positions over the next five years. Long-term plans are for the department to have space in a research building to be constructed at Emory and in an academic wing of a building to be constructed at Georgia Tech.

-Holly Korschun

Return to November 17, 1997 Contents Page