Bioengineers chart their field's future
Symposium inaugurates one of Berkeley's newest departments

By Jan Ambrosini, Public Affairs

29 NOV 2000 | Experts offered their vision of bioengineering's future in a day-long symposium celebrating the College of Engineering's newest academic unit, the Department of Bioengineering.

Held Nov.14 in Bechtel Engineering Center, the event featured talks and a panel discussion with academic and industry researchers in biomechanics, tissue engineering and nanotechnology.

The new department includes faculty from several fields of engineering and the biological and health sciences at Berkeley, as well as from the medical school at UC San Francisco. Eventually, the unit will become a joint Berkeley/UCSF department, the only two-campus department in the UC system.

"The new bioengineering department is a great role model for bringing together domains of knowledge that weren't previously coupled," said Paul Gray, executive vice chancellor and provost, who welcomed participants. In his four years as dean of engineering, which ended June 30, Gray helped spearhead the creation of the new department, which merges Berkeley's strengths in engineering and physical and biological sciences with UCSF's rich clinical environment.

Symposium speakers included leaders from industry and academia, highlighting recent breakthroughs in the field and the benefits of the kind of interdisciplinary approach taken in Berkeley's new department.

For example, UCSF radiology professor David Saloner outlined his work with Berkeley bioengineering and mechanical engineering professor Stanley Berger on modeling blood flow to help improve magnetic resonance imaging for the study of vascular disease, a leading cause of stroke.

Berkeley mechanical engineering professor Boris Rubinsky worked with UCSF surgeons to develop new potential for cryosurgery. Using surgical probes developed by Rubinsky and guided by ultrasound and MRI imaging, surgeons use the minimally invasive technique to freeze and destroy diseased tissue. To date, some 10,000 patients have received cryosurgical treatment at 200 medical sites.

Other speakers addressed advances in drug delivery, nanotechnology, tissue engineering, and the burgeoning field of bioinformatics, the use of computational analysis and modeling to understand biological systems.

"Just as computers started out centralized, expensive, hard to use, then became available to individuals, affordable, and user-friendly, bioinformatics can follow the same trend," said alumnus John Couch, CEO of DoubleTwist Inc. He said the field will allow researchers to manage and make use of the new data on the human genome to speed new understanding and cures for diseases.

"The field of bioengineering is moving fast," said Thomas Budinger, chairman of Berkeley's new department, "and our faculty is thinking ahead 10 to 15 years to plan undergraduate and graduate curricula that prepare students to take the lead in the field."

Established in 1998, the bioengineering department is slated to grow roughly from 200 to 300 undergraduates and from 55 to 100 graduate students over the next five years.

A major component of Berkeley's Health Sciences Initiative, the department has to launch new research initiatives in four areas: bio-MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) and robotics, tissue engineering and remodeling, biomedical imaging, and bioinformatics and genomics.







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