By Eric Wright
The links between biology, medicine and engineering become more intertwined every day.
From the early 1800s, when the first stethoscopes were invented, to the development of X-rays toward the end of that century, the quest to understand, diagnose and treat with advancing technologies has created an inseparable bond between these disciplines.
It is also an area where Florida Tech is quickly becoming a national player.
In the middle of a worldwide health crisis, Florida Tech was able to break ground on the Health Sciences Research Center. The $18 million facility boasts more than 61,000 square feet of space, of which more than a third is dedicated to labs filled with cutting-edge equipment and learning spaces centered on biomedical engineering and sciences.
The center will allow the university to double the size of its undergraduate biomedical engineering program to 300 full-time students and increase its undergraduate premed program from 150 to 250 full-time, on-campus students.
“Currently, this track record is leading to the location of a medical school on our campus in 2024,” says T. Dwayne McCay, Ph.D., university president. “It is a program that has grown out of our biology department and the efforts of Julia Grimwade, who leads that program.”
With the United States facing a shortage of physicians expected to climb from between 50,000 and 140,000 by 2030, according to The Association of American Medical Colleges, the timing of this initiative is critical.
Florida Tech’s prowess as a biomedical and engineering center has been growing steadily for some time.
World-class researchers like University of St. Andrews-trained Andy Knight, Ph.D., professor and head of the biomedical and chemical engineering and sciences department is developing countermeasures for biological threat agents, such as Ebola and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis (VEE).
Linxia Gu, Ph.D., a professor in the biomedical and chemical engineering and sciences and mechanical and civil engineering departments, explained she has always been involved in biomedical research from a mechanical engineering perspective.
Dr. Gu’s research expertise lies in biomechanics and biomaterials using both computational and experimental methods (computational being math models that simulate and predict an outcome).
Her specific application areas include vascular mechanics and indirect traumatic injury to the brain and eye. She has done work focusing on the effects of explosions and impacts like concussions, principally with military veterans.
“I also work with surgeons to better understand and get better outcomes from stents used to open clogged arteries, while avoiding the long-term complications that can arise from these very complex procedures and devices,” Dr. Gu says.
Across campus, Eric Guisbert, Ph.D., a biological sciences assistant professor who started his research career at Park Davis Pharmaceutical Company in the cancer research department, continues to pursue science that is “impactful.”
“I chose my primary research focus on the heat shock response, which is a universal stress response that is critical for normal growth and associated with a number of human diseases, but it is present in all living things,” he says.
Dr. Guisbert is optimistic that the department’s ongoing research will provide a better understanding of both risk factors and possible treatments for cancer. And he sees no better place to do so than Florida Tech.
“At many colleges, particularly the big universities, 95 percent of the focus is on research, teaching is a sideline” he said. “Conversely, at the liberal arts colleges, the emphasis is on teaching almost exclusively. Few have the balance that has been achieved here at Florida Tech, between teaching and research. That is one of the things that I love about this institution.”
While named for its aerospace roots, the Space Coast has become an incubator and generator of talent and technology that transcends the space industry. The “Space Coast Impacts” series highlights how our aerospace, marine, cyber and biomedical researchers continue to not only follow but also to lead our community on this profound trajectory.