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College launches Medtech Innovation Initiative

Eb3kiZCWsAEJP6gThe opening of the new Bioscience 3 building within the Fitzsimons Innovation Community on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus powerfully signals the launch of a new strategic initiative on research and innovation in medical technologies across CU Anschutz and CU Denver. This will bring innovators in engineering and computer science together with those in medicine and healthcare to dramatically elevate discovery, translation, and workforce development.

The Medtech Innovation Initiative is centered on leveraging and amplifying CU Denver’s unique bioengineering program, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary and is primed for major expansion. It seeks to bring new talent in engineering and computing disciplines to CU Anschutz to collaboratively innovate with world-class clinicians and medical scientists. Housing it in Bioscience 3 recognizes and aims to rapidly accelerate the initiative’s innovation potential of bringing these groups together, working hand-in-hand with industry partners under one roof.

The initiative is a signature element of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing’s strategic vision to significantly expand the impact of its education and research programs in health technology and systems through partnerships with CU Anschutz. CU Distinguished Professor Robin Shandas is leading the effort to engage departments across the CU School of Medicine and the College of Engineering, Design and Computing, as well as Children’s Hospital Colorado and Inworks Innovation Initiative, uniting these activities under the Center for Bioengineering. Its bold ambitions are to broadly marry cutting-edge technology and design with medical and healthcare. With Shandas’ deep and successful experience in bringing medical technology ideas through regulatory approvals and commercial exits, he is the ideal leader to guide innovation activities.

Engineering Dean Martin Dunn expressed his enthusiasm for the initiative. “As a college we are focusing our intellect and creativity on important societal challenges, and healthcare is at the top of everybody’s list,” he said. “In order to make the ambitious impact we desire, we need to partner with and to meet collaborators where the opportunities exist. And this is at CU Anschutz, where the extraordinary clinical and research programs underpin an exciting, rapidly-expanding innovation and industry presence.  We have a lot to offer and we want to be in the middle of this dynamic ecosystem.”

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman championed the partnership and acknowledged the underlying importance of bringing more technical engineering and computer science talent to the medical campus. He supported the plan by allotting the college nearly 20,000 square feet of research and innovation space in Bioscience 3 and sharing startup costs for the initiative.

“By bringing together top talent in engineering with innovators in medicine and healthcare, this partnership opens up countless possibilities,” said Elliman. “The Center for Bioengineering is a natural fit for Bioscience 3, and will further bolster the dynamic innovation ecosystem we’ve developed on our campus. Our dual-campus bioengineering program is among our pride points, and we look forward to the bold ideas that this new collaboration will inspire.”

CU Denver Chancellor Michelle Marks agreed. “Our bioengineering program represents a unique and innovative partnership between CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus,” she said. “Tying in theoretical engineering knowledge with practical medical applications provides our students with unparalleled opportunities. By expanding the Center for Bioengineering and building a comprehensive research program focused on health technology, the Medtech Innovation Initiative is poised to make a significant impact and drive innovation in the bioengineering field.”

The Medtech Innovation Initiative officially launched in Bioscience 3 on October 26, 2020. The new facilities are designed to support cutting-edge research alongside translational medical device and service design capabilities to rapidly move discoveries to clinical impact or commercialization in partnership with CU Innovations.

“The last 10 years have confirmed the value of having engineering and technology innovation integrated into an academic medical campus,” said Shandas. “It is clear that such efforts catalyze successful new cross-disciplinary collaborations and attract exceptional faculty.  Students also have numerous opportunities to explore interesting research and entrepreneurial projects while being mentored by clinical and engineering experts. I am excited to lead this ambitious new effort. If the new hires are any indication, I foresee very exciting things in the future.”

The facilities are designed to host collaborations with industry partners and provide myriad services for medical technology innovation, research, design, and prototyping. This includes polymer and metal 3D printers, 3D bioprinters, advanced microscopes, materials testing, a micro-fabrication clean room, diagnostic and test equipment, biosensors, surgical simulation systems, and computational clusters for biomedical simulations.

As part of the initiative, the College of Engineering, Design and Computing has hired four new full-time faculty with joint appointments in CU Anschutz clinical departments whose research, supports and will benefit from the initiative and will be housed at Bioscience 3.

The first, a key leadership recruit, bioengineering professor Keith Neeves, joined the college in spring 2019 with a joint appointment in the Department of Pediatrics. Upon arriving Neeves led the charge of hiring three additional faculty through a cluster search that sought outstanding candidates in engineering and computer science with biomedical research interests and expertise.

“The demand for engineering expertise in clinical and translational medicine has never been greater,” said Neeves. “These new hires, along with our expanded physical footprint in Bioscience 3, will amplify the strong and growing contribution of bioengineering on the Anschutz Medical Campus.”

As part of the cluster hire, Brecca Gaffney joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Gaffney comes to CU Denver from Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. Gaffney’s research uses whole-body and joint level biomechanics to better understand the mechanical mechanisms of overuse injuries. Her lab is currently exploring how compensations adapted by patients with lower-limb amputation over time may increase the risk of developing joint overuse injuries, such as osteoarthritis, and how these changes may differ between amputation type.

“My research fits within the core of the medtech initiative that aims to foster collaboration between the college and CU Anschutz,” said Gaffney. “My research requires clinical input, which I have already been fortunate to establish on CU Anschutz through collaborations with researchers in physical therapy, orthopedic surgery, and radiology.”

Mazen Al Borno joined the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, from Stanford University where he was a postdoctoral researcher in bioengineering. His research is focused on developing computational models of human movement to better understand the motor system and to design novel rehabilitation therapies and assistive devices for patients with movement disorders.​ He is thrilled at the opportunity to work in this new multidisciplinary environment.

“You often have to become hyper-specialized to make a contribution in science and there’s a risk of developing tunnel vision,” he said. “A multidisciplinary approach can help you become aware of new and larger problems that you can tackle through collaborations with researchers having complementary skill sets.”

The third hire was Chelsea Magin, who joined the Department of Bioengineering. She has worked with bioengineering as an adjunct faculty member since 2016, and brings with her an established Lab for Bioinspired Pulmonary Engineering. Magin’s lab takes a multidisciplinary approach to inventing new biomaterials and biomanufacturing processes to build 3D models of human lung tissues.

“Research in the Magin Lab is a perfect fit for the college’s new medtech initiative,” she said. “We collaborate with physicians on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus to engineer models of human lung tissue and learn more about how to treat chronic pulmonary diseases. The results of our work are very translatable and have already produced several patent applications that were filed with CU Innovations.”

In addition to the new tenure-track hires, bioengineering associate professor Cathy Bodine (Center for Inclusive Design and Engineering) and new bioengineering assistant research professor Brisa Pena-Castellanos (Biomedical Nanotechnology and Tissue Engineering Laboratory) are anchoring their research in the new Biosciences 3 facilities where they will grow collaborations with clinicians and industry.

Beyond cross-disciplinary research collaborations, the Medtech Innovation Initiative affords ample opportunities for college/community partnerships. From assisting startup companies through various aspects of pre-clinical device/technology development, to assisting local businesspersons with professional-quality design, prototyping and testing services, this newly formed innovation hub will serve as a resource for clinicians, researchers, and entrepreneurs alike, as well as provide students with hands-on learning opportunities.

“This really is an exciting initiative for our college; it has so much potential to transform lives not only through the research and innovation that will result, but through the education of the next generation of biomedical engineers who will have a very rare opportunity to learn and work side-by-side with clinicians in world-class hospitals as well as the booming industry and startup ecosystem,” said Dunn. “I am so proud of the progress our Department of Bioengineering has made in 10 short years and can’t think of a better unit to lead this significant expansion of engineering, computing, and design at CU Anschutz.”

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At the CU Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing, we focus on providing our students with a comprehensive engineering education at the undergraduate, graduate and professional level. Faculty conduct research that spans our five disciplines of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, bioengineering, and computer science and engineering. The college collaborates with industry from around the state; our laboratories and research opportunities give students the hands-on experience they need to excel in the professional world.

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