Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, July 19, 2012

New joint biomedical engineering department holds promise for better healthcare technologies

In an effort to develop more technologies that improve health care, U-M will establish a Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) with footholds in its top-ranked College of Engineering and Medical School, in an action approved today (July 19) by the Board of Regents. The change takes effect Sept. 1.

The department currently is housed in engineering, though its researchers regularly collaborate with medical doctors and a number of Medical School faculty hold joint appointments there. The change in academic structure is designed to bring biomedical engineering researchers closer to the patients their technologies aim to benefit, say leaders in both schools.

“As engineers, one of our goals is to invent and develop technologies that make a difference in society,” said Douglas Noll, the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Professor of Biomedical Engineering and current department chair. “By linking ourselves in the Medical School, we will establish closer connections for our faculty and students to practicing clinicians and the health care system, which will allow us to better identify and translate our discoveries to medical care and to offer new educational opportunities for our students.”

As part of this plan, BME will expand over the next five years from approximately 20 primary faculty members to 35. Most of the new hires will be Medical School appointments. The department will retain its space on North Campus in engineering and in the North Campus Research Complex. It also will open a space at the Medical School in the future. Already at the NCRC, a new biointerfaces laboratory has opened that allows medical, engineering and physics researchers to collaborate on projects.

“Patients everywhere already benefit from the work of engineers and physicians working together, but closer cooperation will bring even greater potential to develop new devices and technologies to improve human health, while training students in a collaborative environment that maximizes exposure to both fields,” said Dr. James O. Woolliscroft, dean of the Medical School and Lyle C. Roll Professor of Medicine.

Provost Phil Hanlon said, “The new department will enhance partnerships between educational programs, laboratory research and clinical medicine, leveraging the strengths of both schools and accelerating technology development.”

Noll said U-M joins about 10 other institutions across the country with similar joint set-ups, though each case is unique. In some instances, two universities collaborate to form a joint department. At Michigan, the schools are across the road from one another, and they are both ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s top 10, as is the Biomedical Engineering Department.