Robin Shandas, PhD

The University of Colorado Denver announced that it will be home to the first Bioengineering Department in the state. Bioengineering, a marriage of engineering and medicine, is an application of engineering principles and techniques to medical and biological fields, producing improvements in people’s lives such as artificial hands and heart valves, implanted insulin pumps, and medical imaging for diagnostics. The University of Colorado Board of Regents approved the new program on Feb. 11, and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) approved it on March 5.

This new department aims to bring engineers, clinicians and medical researchers together. The UC Denver program will offer interdisciplinary MS and PhD programs in Bioengineering. Distinctive aspects of the UC Denver program include direct interaction with clinicians and surgeons and a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship. For example, students will learn not only how to design new medical devices but also how to move their innovative ideas and research into clinical development, production and marketing.

The Bioengineering program promotes cross-campus collaboration and sharing amongst different CU campuses, with faculty from UC Denver’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Medicine and CU- Boulder participating. Faculty and students will spend substantial amounts of time at the medical campus, learning how to translate between clinical and engineering languages. Students entering the program will obtain rigorous, cross-disciplinary training and will be taught by engineers, medical researchers and nationally known clinical faculty.

“The School of Medicine has invested a great deal in this exciting new program,” said Richard Krugman, MD, dean of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and vice chancellor of health affairs. “We look forward to the academic collaborations that will lead to our being able to continue to advance science and improve care.”

Robin Shandas, PhD, head of the Bioengineering department with a joint appointment as research professor of mechanical engineering at CU-Boulder, anticipates 5-15 students in the first year, growing to 50-60 graduate students in five years. “We have worked hard to create a unique multi-disciplinary training program with a design-based focus,” said Shandas. “We urge students to ask questions about clinical needs or research gaps and think about how they can use their bioengineering training to address these issues. For example, one of our faculty members is working on a novel dialysis graft made from the patient’s own tissue rather than plastics to solve the issues of rejection and short life span of current devices.”

“Bioengineering students at UC Denver will be able to take classes at CU-Boulder and do research in the laboratories of our world renowned faculty,” said Robert Davis, dean of the CU-Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science. “We look forward to this collaboration.”

This new program will be a driver of economic development in bioengineering fields (Colorado has more than 150 medical device companies), thus providing economic stimulus to the state as well. Several companies and jobs have already been created due to bioengineering research in Colorado and this program will continue to grow the medical technology industry and research labs in the state.

CU-based startups that could be classified as Bioengineering include:

• 2C Tech Corp – stealth mode; developing a CU technology for treating vision loss and blindness due to retinal damage
• BioTricity Medical –
• Cello Bioengineering – developing a soft matter testing technology for tissue regeneration applications
• EndoShape –
• Illumasonix – 
• Locomotion – commercializing a CU technology for substantially improving treadmill therapy for patients with gait disorders.
• MedShape Solutions –
• Precision Biopsy –
• Physical Activities Innovation – stealth mode; developing ‘Shoe-Based Biofeedback Device to Measure and Influence Body Weight, Postural Allocation and Physical Activity’.
• TissueFusion – developing laser suturing applications; not launched yet.

Since 2006, this set of companies has raised more than $20.5 million in grants and seed financing.

“In order to meet the demands of future generations and supporters, attract the best students and faculty and generate revenue, there is a vital need to invest in new programs like the Bioengineering Program at UC Denver,” said Nien-Yin Chang, PhD, dean of the UC Denver College of Engineering and Applied Science.

According to Shandas, “faculty will generate significant research dollars and grants to support graduate students in the program and related programs. This program is crucial to the retention of the best faculty to whom these resources have been committed, and it’s important for recruitment of other faculty in medicine and engineering.”

Biomedical entrepreneurship will be an essential component of the program. Students will learn how to start new companies. In the past, students interested in a bioengineering degree had to leave the state to pursue an education. With this program in place, Colorado will keep its talent and attract new talent, including professors and researchers, bringing job creation and new inventions to the state.

Resources have been set aside since 2007 to support this new program. An undergraduate degree in Bioengineering at UC Denver is anticipated to begin in the Fall of 2012.

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