AUSTIN, Texas—A National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for $3.8 million will help University of Texas at Austin engineers and scientists form a multidisciplinary graduate program to educate Ph.D. students in cellular and molecular imaging, and treatment.
Advances in these fields could lead to significant changes in the way doctors diagnose and treat diseases.
The five-year grant will establish a new Ph.D. program in Cellular and Molecular Imaging for Diagnostics and Therapeutics. The grant will be administered by co-principal investigators and biomedical engineering professors Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Nicholas A. Peppas and Christine E. Schmidt.
Dr. Richards-Kortum received a similar grant in 1998 to help educate graduate students in the development and use of optical molecular bioengineering technologies, and while at Purdue University Dr. Peppas received a grant involving therapeutics. They decided to combine their efforts here to build the new graduate Ph.D. program which will initially support 12 American graduate students.
“In the previous program (at The University of Texas at Austin) we said we’re going to use imaging techniques for diagnostics,” says Dr. Peppas. “Now we say that’s not enough. Simply having diagnostics doesn’t produce the medical answer. We’ve now added therapeutics so we can detect and treat disease.”
Health professionals more frequently use cellular and molecular imaging when diagnosing disease and designing therapeutic regimens. Imaging involves labeling particular compounds in the body, like tumors, with specific chemicals that emit light, like fluorescence, so a particular camera or device can see the compound through tissue. The use of imaging in diagnosing and treating disease allows doctors to see “biomarkers” of disease in cells and molecules at microscopic resolutions—without invasive procedures like biopsies.
Designing imaging tools and using them successfully requires highly trained professionals with a wide berth of skills. The new program will draw upon expertise from faculty from in the College of Engineering, the College of Natural Sciences, the College of Pharmacy and The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Students will conduct research under an interdisciplinary advisory structure, where co-advisers from different disciplines supervise the research, and they will be educated in technology assessment and transfer to appreciate how research leads to commercial projects. They will also be required to participate in at least one internship where they will see their research carried out in clinical, industrial and international different settings. Because the grant is part of NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT), students will participate in international collaborative programs, attend a special IGERT seminar course and present their research at least once a year.
“As we focus on the parallel development, assessment and transfer of technology,” say the professors, “we will create key partnerships with industry. These partnerships will provide our students with information about a variety of career opportunities, and will expedite the process of bringing the research advances developed here to general medical practice.”
“This program has all the things a classical science or engineering program doesn’t have,” says Dr. Peppas, who serves as a professor of chemical engineering and pharmaceutics, as well as biomedical engineering. “We can give these students an education they couldn’t have gotten just in biomedical engineering, in chemistry, in biology or pharmacy.”
For more information contact: Becky Rische, College of Engineering, 512-471-7272.