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SU launches Syracuse Biomaterials Institute to research biomaterials — biologically compatible materials used to replace natural body tissues — and smart medical devices
SU launches Syracuse Biomaterials Institute to research biomaterials — biologically compatible materials used to replace natural body tissues — and smart medical devicesNovember 28, 2007Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
Patrick T. Mather plans to put Syracuse on the map in the advancement of new biomedical research.
Mather, a noted researcher in polymeric biomaterials, has joined the faculty of Syracuse University’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science this fall as the inaugural Milton and Ann Stevenson Professor of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering. And he is a key force in SU’s launching of the highly interdisciplinary Syracuse Biomaterials Institute (SBI), which will focus on a wide spectrum of research projects, from fundamental inquiries on the biochemical and mechanical properties of individual cells to the development of new technologies such as smart medical devices and biological/tissue-engineering constructs.
Recognizing the potential of a Syracuse-based institute, the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR) awarded SU a $750,000 faculty development grant to recruit Mather, most recently a professor and researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The award was one of five given to universities around the state to help them recruit world-class scientists to help ensure the continued long-term growth of the state’s high-technology industries. Mather will serve as the institute’s director.
“The advancement of the national biomedical research enterprise is one of the top priorities for medicine and engineering today, and biomedical research is currently engaged in unprecedented growth and diversification,” says Jeremy Gilbert, professor of biomaterials and associate dean for research and doctoral studies in LCS, who was instrumental in drafting the proposal for the institute. “Efforts nationally clearly show that interactions between clinicians, life scientists, physicists, chemists and engineers are becoming critical in order to address complex research questions and develop new technologies for diagnosing and treating disease.”
Research in the areas of biomaterials — biologically compatible materials used to replace natural body tissues — and smart medical devices has the potential for explosive growth in the coming years. Over the next decade, researchers will work to understand how materials can be controlled to interact with the human body in positive ways and to develop smart medical devices that can sense, interact with, respond to and control their environment. Mather says building the SBI is a huge opportunity. “There are currently only one or two centers around the country doing similar work, but the demand is much higher and existing efforts center around single investigators,” Mather says. “It is clear to us that success in the field is predicated on interdisciplinary teaming — a facet underpinning our approach. We have the opportunity to build upon the outstanding reputation that Syracuse University has already gained in biomaterials.”
The SBI will be highly interdisciplinary in focus, fostering with interactions across the University among engineering, biology, chemistry, physics and other fields. The traditional objective of biomaterials research is to design artificial replacement materials that can interact in specific ways with the biological environment for a well-defined scope, such as serving as a scaffold that promotes the regeneration of biological tissue. Biomaterials are also used for drug delivery to a targeted area. At an even deeper level, modern biomaterials research aims to understand the complex biochemical and mechanical interactions taking place at the interface between living and implanted material, as well as using our understanding of cellular mechanisms as the basis for the development of new smart synthetic materials. In all cases, progress in biomaterials research relies crucially on the collaborative effort between biologists, chemists, physicists and engineers.
Syracuse University currently has strong research efforts on the properties of biological and biocompatible matter in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. Several recent and planned hires in each of these departments are focused on areas that are central to the study of biomaterials, including cell signaling, biosurfaces, nanoscale structures and devices, soft condensed matter physics and tissue engineering.
“The study of biological matter and the design of biocompatible materials necessitate dialogue among experts across a range of disciplines. The institute will both lead new directions of research and serve as a catalyst for efforts currently under way in science and engineering departments across the SU campus,” says M. Cristina Marchetti, William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor, chair of the Department of Physics and associate director of the SBI. “The strength of the institute will derive from the ability of scholars from these different disciplines to collaborate and interact.”
Mather says the institute will also foster opportunities for the assessment of social ethics and public policy issues within the use of medical devices, which may involve collaborations with scholars and students in the areas of law, policy studies and disabilities studies, and opportunities for commercialization, involving entrepreneurship. The center will also develop links with hospitals and initiatives in the local community, such as the proposed human umbilical cord blood bank at SU, a proposed spinal cord treatment and research facility at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, and a biotechnology initiative at Upstate Medical University and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric F. Spina says the center is well aligned with the University’s Scholarship in Action vision. “The Syracuse Biomaterials Institute will develop broad and deep interactions, span disciplines and institutions, develop links across the campus and the community, and may have a significant impact locally and nationally in terms of creation of new knowledge and the development of new infrastructure for preserving the health of the nation,” Spina says.
Mather is currently working on building up the institute in a number of ways, including securing research grants and funding, recruiting new faculty and building relationships within the local research communities, and developing learning and research activities. An annual off-campus meeting for biomaterial researchers and collaborators, as well as a regular seminar series — the Stevenson Biomaterials Lecture Series — to bring renowned researchers to campus, are already in the works.