Education & Workforce Development and Economic Development and Life Science & Biotech and Technology

Purdue, IU out to bolster their life sciences futures: Both universities invest millions in biomedical pursuits Grants help growth 'A new kind of engineer'

January 17, 2005

Whenever Indiana and Purdue universities get together on the hardwood or the debate arena, the rivalry is intense.

But as various public and private players around the state put on a full-court press for Indiana's life sciences future, the schools have teamed up like a dynamic backcourt duo.

The Scientist, a biweekly publication delivered to 75,000 people worldwide, in November ranked Purdue No. 2 and Indiana No. 10 on a list of "Best Places to Work in Academia," based on research facilities, pay for researchers and respect for peers.

With a growing reputation to uphold, both schools last fall announced significant initiatives aimed at bolstering the state's position in the life sciences industry.

Purdue announced in late October a $10 million commitment by the Weldon family of Evergreen, Colo., for the creation of the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at the West Lafayette campus. Traditionally, biomedical engineering has been one department among many at the Purdue School of Engineering.

IU announced in mid-December a $53 million grant-the largest ever received by the Bloomington campus-from Lilly Endowment Inc. to foster research into metabolism and the inner working of cells.

The research, which will build on protein and genome studies being performed at the university, is aimed at providing scientists greater insight into diagnosing and treating cancer and other diseases.

IU will use the grant to attract and retain renowned scientists, and transfer technology to new and existing life sciences businesses around the state.

"You can't say enough about the job guys like Dr. [D. Craig] Brater have done [as dean of the IU School of Medicine], and [President] Martin Jischke have done at Purdue," said David Johnson, newly appointed president and CEO of BioCrossroads, the state's life sciences initiative. "These men and the schools they represent are focused on creating economic development activity to advance the state's life sciences initiative."

Long known for its world-class engineering program, Purdue hopes to take its biomedical engineering offerings to the next level with an entire school dedicated to preparing undergraduate and graduate students for careers as medical equipment designers and manufacturers.

The program started in the 1970s as a research effort named the Hillenbrand Biomedical Engineering Center, said George Wodicka, head of the Biomedical Engineering School. In 1998, the school of engineering formed a Biomedical Engineering Department, offering a few graduate-level courses.

But the Weldon contribution was the most significant advancement, Wodicka said.

In 2006, the new school will move from the Potter Engineering Center to a $25 million, four-story, 91,000-squarefoot facility under construction in Purdue's Discovery Park, the university's hub for interdisciplinary research, on the western edge of campus.

At that time, Purdue will expand the school's faculty from six full-time instructors to 20.

"Our growth is a reflection of the partnerships we have with Indiana life sciences companies," Wodicka said. "They have a need for employees, and we have worked with them to create undergraduate and graduate programs that will prepare students for challenges in the life sciences field."

Students enrolled in the programs at the Weldon School learn engineering design, analysis and implementation as they relate to biology and biomedical problems.

The school also has established a joint medical degree/doctorate degree program with the Indiana University School of Medicine.

"We're developing a new kind of engineer," said Wodicka, adding that internships play a pivotal role in students' training because they "get influenced on what the important problems [in biomedical engineering] are."

As is the case at Purdue, IU is working feverishly to put the state on the worldwide life sciences map.

The school has been a vital player in BioCrossroads, primarily through IUPUI, the IU School of Medicine and the IU Center for Emerging Technologies life sciences incubator.

But the Bloomington campus also is a hotbed of life sciences activity.

Grants from the state and the Simon property-management family of Indianapolis helped build a 140,000-squarefoot life sciences research and teaching facility. The Lilly grant will put that facility to good use.

"IU is now poised to establish international intellectual leadership in these new areas of life sciences research," said IU President Adam W. Herbert, who added he would like to see the entire IU system generate at least $800 million a year in external research funding by the end of the decade.

The research will draw on IU resources in biology, chemistry, physics, medical research, computer science and informatics, the university said.

Grant money also will be used for greenhouses, nuclear magnetic resonance equipment, research facilities and the expansion of the school's informationtechnology infrastructure.

"This grant is like an infusion of rocket fuel into the machinery of basic life sciences research at IU. It will help keep Indiana competitive in this rapidly evolving field of global significance," said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Kumble R. Subbaswamy.

Lilly Endowment chose IU for the grant because it believes "this forward-looking initiative will significantly advance Lilly Endowment's efforts to build the intellectual capital in our state," according to Endowment Vice President for Education Sara B. Cobb.

Representatives of BioCrossroads, the schools and some of Indiana's life sciences companies believe the unique working relationships that have been cultivated in recent years eventually will set the state apart from its competitors.

The schools also are attracting some of the nation's top faculty through university and private sector collaborations, Johnson said.

"It's unusual to see that level of cooperation [elsewhere]," he said.

Those collaborations will continue to foster economic development as prescription drug research, orthopedic and medical device companies spawn from university research projects, Wodicka said.

The biomedical engineering school works with "probably a couple dozen medical technology companies right now," he said. "That number is growing quickly as we're seeing more small and midsize companies grow through research collaborations."

That puts the Purdue programs in a position to help direct the offense when it comes to attracting life sciences businesses, he added.

"Certainly, we're going to be involved in a number of economic development programs," Wodicka said. "We're going to license technology to companies, and hopefully work with individuals in states to try to recruit companies to take advantage of not only the entrepreneurial backbone we have here, but the educational and research resources available, as well."

Warsaw-based medical device maker Zimmer Holdings Inc. has reaped the benefits from the efforts of the state's colleges, said spokesman Brad Bishop.

"We employ a lot of IU and Purdue graduates, and have relationships with a number of universities and colleges in the state," Bishop said. "Many of the Purdue students we hire are mechanical engineers, while the IU graduates tend to be more on the finance and accounting side, although that could change in the future."

A partnership that dates back at least a decade between Purdue and Lafayettebased artificial joint and orthopedic implant maker Biomet Inc. has paid dividends for the company, said Darlene Whaley, vice president of human resources for the Warsaw-based company.

"Our co-op program for sophomores through seniors has been very successful," Whaley said. "They get hands-on experience, and often we are able to offer them positions when they graduate."

The company, which also works with students from the University of Cincinnati and Kettering University in Flint, Mich., has had its best luck with Purdue students, said Tony Fleming, Biomet vice president of research and development.

"Purdue students are as well-prepared-if not better prepared-than students from other schools," Fleming said. "They seem to have a broad background, with strong technical skills and strong social skills ... . After five semesters of work, we almost always make [the students] an offer."

Most of the Purdue students who have worked for Biomet have hailed from the school's Mechanical Engineering Department.

Fleming said he looks forward to working with students who will now come through the Weldon School.

"I don't have any doubts that program will help further the life sciences industry," Fleming said.
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