Syracuse University launches Syracuse Biomaterials Institute to research and study biomaterials and smart medical devices

Patrick T. Mather, Milton and Ann Stevenson Professor of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering, will lead this new effort to put Syracuse on the map in the advancement of new biomedical research.
Mather, a noted researcher in polymeric biomaterials, has joined the faculty of Syracuse University’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science this fall as the inaugural Milton and Ann Stevenson Professor of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering. He will be a key force in Syracuse University’s launching of the highly interdisciplinary and cross-University Syracuse Biomaterials Institute (SBI). The institute will focus on research into new technologies in biomaterials, smart medical devices and biological/tissue-engineered constructs.
Recognizing the potential of a Syracuse-based institute, the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR) awarded SU a $750,000 faculty development grant to recruit Mather, most recently a professor and researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The award was one of five given to universities around the state to help them recruit world-class scientists to help ensure the continued long-term growth of the state’s high technology industries. Mather will serve as the institute’s director.
“The advancement of the national biomedical research enterprise is one to the top priorities for medicine and engineering today, and biomedical research is presently engaged in unprecedented growth and diversification,” says Jeremy Gilbert, professor of biomaterials and associate dean for research and doctoral studies in LCS who was instrumental in drafting the proposal for the institute. “Efforts nationally clearly show that interactions between clinicians, life scientists, physicists, chemists and engineers are becoming critical in order to address complex research questions and develop new technologies for diagnosing and treating disease.”
Research into the areas of biomaterials–biologically compatible materials used to replace natural body tissues–and smart medical devices has the potential for explosive growth in the coming years. Over the next decade, researchers will work to understand how materials can be controlled to interact with the human body in positive ways and to develop smart medical devices that can sense, interact with, respond to and control their environment. Mather says building the SBI is a huge opportunity. “There are currently only one or two centers around the country doing similar work, but the demand is much higher and existing efforts center around single investigators,” Mather says. “It is clear to us that success in the field is predicated on interdisciplinary teaming–a facet underpinning our approach. We have the opportunity to build upon the outstanding reputation that Syracuse University has already gained in biomaterials.”
The SBI will be highly interdisciplinary in focus, with interactions across the University between engineering, biology, chemistry and physics, among others. Biomaterials research in the institute will depend strongly on the interactions between biologists, chemists, physicists and engineers. Cellular behavior (the realm of biologists, biochemists and biophysicists and bioengineers) is highly dependent on the nature of materials to which they are exposed. Biomaterials, and their structure and properties, are the realm of materials scientists and engineers that again come from chemistry, physics and engineering.
Syracuse University has strong and developing efforts in chemistry, physics and engineering to build research capability related to materials, and specifically to biomaterials. Several new hires in each of these departments are focused on cell signaling, surfaces of materials, nanomaterials, the physics of soft condensed matter (e.g. biomaterials) and tissue engineering.
“These hires demonstrated to the University the natural overlap that the biomaterials field encompasses and the appropriateness of an interdisciplinary and collaborative institute in this scholarly area, but efforts had been running somewhat independently as departments pursued the leading edge research directions in their respective fields,” says M. Cristina Marchetti, William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor, chair of the Department of Physics and associate director of the SBI. “The strength of the institute will derive from the ability of scholars from these different disciplines to collaborate and interact.”
Mather says the center will also foster opportunities for the assessment of social ethics and public policy issues within the use of medical devices, which may involve collaborations with scholars and students in the areas of law, policy studies and disabilities studies, and opportunities for commercialization, involving entrepreneurship. The center will also develop links with hospitals and initiatives in the local community, such as the proposed human umbilical cord blood bank at SU, a proposed spinal cord treatment and research facility at the Veterans Administration Hospital, and a biotechnology initiative at Upstate Medical University and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric F. Spina says the center is well aligned with the University’s Scholarship in Action vision. “The Syracuse Biomaterials Institute will develop broad and deep interactions, span disciplines and institutions, develop links across the campus and the community, and may have a significant impact locally and nationally in terms of creation of new knowledge and the development of new infrastructure for preserving the health of the nation,” Spina says.
Mather is currently working on building up the institute in a number of ways, including securing research grants and funding, recruiting new faculty and building relationships within the local research communities, and developing learning and research activities. An annual off-campus meeting for biomaterial researchers and collaborators, as well as a regular seminar series–the Stevenson Biomaterials Lecture Series–to bring renowned researchers to campus, are already in the works.

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