Biomedical engineering has revolutionized medical research and practice in many ways, from providing sophisticated automated instrumentation and computation needed to sequence the human genome to developing devices that mimic normal delivery of insulin by the pancreas.
The University of Florida today dedicated a new research facility that will stimulate the kind of cross-disciplinary interactions that often lead to such innovations. The new Biomedical Sciences Building brings together scientists from different UF colleges and disciplines to advance medical discoveries and translate them into treatments for patients.
The $90.5 million, 163,000-square-foot building houses researchers from the colleges of Medicine, Engineering, and Public Health and Health Professions, creating the potential for new collaborations. Laboratories have an “open” design in which teams are not cut off from each other by walls.
“The University of Florida is already home to the largest biomedical enterprise in Florida,” said Win Phillips, D.Sc., UF vice president for research. “By encouraging research collaborations across many disciplines, the Biomedical Sciences Building positions us to grow in new directions — and play a key role in future discoveries that ultimately benefit people everywhere.”
Research units include the UF Diabetes Center of Excellence, the UF Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease, the J. Crayton Pruitt Family department of biomedical engineering and the Rehabilitation Research Program in the department of physical therapy. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science for Life laboratory, a cross-disciplinary training program for undergraduate students, also is in the eight-story building.
“When medical science and biomedical engineering researchers share space and ideas, the door opens to new possibilities in translational science that improve health,” said David Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System. “The Biomedical Sciences Building will promote unique partnerships among researchers throughout the university that might not otherwise have formed. Ultimately, the goal is to help the patients of Florida and beyond who stand to benefit from innovative scientific advances at the interface between biomedical science and engineering.”
Biomedical engineering plays a key role in patient care, notably through imaging technologies such as MRI, CT and ultrasound. UF molecular biologists and biomedical engineers are teaming to find ways to control brain cells with light. Others work on optical imaging technologies for detecting cancer and “brain on chip” devices to study nerve function.
“Engineers are very good at developing applications and translating ideas into practice,” said Bruce Wheeler, Ph.D., interim chair of the J. Crayton Pruitt Family department of biomedical engineering, which is creating an undergraduate degree program. “Medicine has been revolutionized by a number of bioengineering technologies.”
UF bioengineers join with experts in other fields to make major discoveries. Diabetes Center researchers are focused on determining ways to predict, prevent and better treat type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and are engaged in several clinical trials, including assessment of immune function at various stages of disease. As new studies point to the potential for vaccines to prevent or reverse type 1 diabetes, the researchers look to biomedical engineering for devising vaccines that work.
“The type 1 diabetes program at UF is translational in design — I don’t know that there’s anything we do in the research lab that doesn’t have some eventual application in humans,” said Mark Atkinson, Ph.D., co-director of the Diabetes Center. “We have seen more than half a dozen therapies go from the bench to the bedside in the last 15 years.”
Meanwhile, the Rehabilitation Research Program, directed by Krista Vandenborne, Ph.D., works to find new therapies that speed rehabilitation after injury by promoting regeneration of muscles and the central nervous system.
Neurodegenerative Disease Center director Todd Golde, M.D., Ph.D., and his group are trying to gain a better understanding of the molecular processes underlying Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. Those studies include determining the mechanisms by which certain mutant proteins might lead to disorders such as Alzheimer’s, as well as developing safe therapies to target disease triggers.
“Science has become much more of a team activity. The big problems really do require a team approach — they don’t necessarily fall into neat categories,” said Paul Carney, M.D., the Wilder professor of pediatrics, whose group is working on ways to predict and interrupt the onset of epileptic seizures.
In recognition of the potential impact of bioengineering in medicine, the National Institutes of Health in recent years created the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Director of that institute, Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D., spoke at the dedication ceremony on the impact of new technologies on public health. Francine R. Kaufman, M.D., chief medical officer and vice president of Medtronics Diabetes and distinguished professor emerita of the University of Southern California, also spoke. She is guiding Medtronic’s development of the “artificial pancreas” for people with type 1 diabetes.
Research in the new Biomedical Sciences Building is complemented by educational efforts of the HHMI Science for Life cross-disciplinary laboratory, which aims to train new generations of scientists knowledgeable in various disciplines and in how they interconnect. When students in the program learn how to use electrocardiograms to study heart function, for example, they also gain an understanding about the technique’s underlying principles of voltage, current and vectors.
“Students who learn science in a cross-disciplinary environment will be the ones to push the boundaries of scientific research,” said laboratory director David Julian, Ph.D.
Researchers and students say the new building’s pleasing indoor environment, lit by large windows, helps them work and learn better. Designed and constructed by HuntonBrady Architects, Ellenzweig Consultants, Affiliated Engineers, Harris Engineering, Walter P. Moore Engineers, Schmidt Dell Associates and Whiting-Turner Construction Management, the building, commissioned by Moses & Associates, meets LEED Gold certification standards of the U.S. Green Building Council. Gold is the third of a four-tier rating system that aims to respond to environmental challenges such as responsible use of resources, pollution reduction and making indoor spaces conducive to good health and well-being.