New Institute Advances Health Care Solutions

Headshot of Professor Nicholas Peppas in a suitThe Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin is launching the university’s first health care engineering institute dedicated to developing technologies and treatments that will immediately improve patient quality of life.

Led by Nicholas Peppas, a professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, the College of Pharmacy, the Department of Biomedical Engineering and a world-renowned expert in biomaterials and drug delivery systems, the new Institute for Biomaterials, Drug Delivery and Regenerative Medicine brings together leading Cockrell School researchers in chemical and biomedical engineering who are investigating new ways to alter and improve the body’s systems, repair failing organs and administer drugs and vaccines.

Through targeted, multidisciplinary research in these key areas, the institute aims to create revolutionary devices and treatments that eliminate painful biopsies, surgeries and chemotherapy; improve rehabilitation and surgical outcomes; and detect cancer, heart disease and viruses early on.

“We have formed a unique institute that will advance biomedical research in fields that directly impact the development of new medical devices and health care problems while also addressing the high costs associated with these new devices,” Peppas said. “We will have a strong partnership with the Dell Medical School and close interaction with industry, and we will provide new short courses and summer programs to educate biotech employees and entrepreneurs.”

With 30 U.S. and international patents, Peppas’ work has led to life-changing medical breakthroughs, including the creation of oral medications that eliminate the need for injections to treat diabetes and multiple sclerosis. He has earned more than 100 awards and distinctions throughout his career and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a member of the National Academy of Medicine and a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Nicholas Peppas works with a student in his lab in spring 2015.

The new institute is advantageously positioned for collaborative partnerships with UT Austin’s Dell Medical School, the Texas medical community and many leading pharmaceutical, biomaterials and health care device companies to identify the biggest challenges and tailor research efforts to ensure immediate application in the community.

“Our new Institute for Biomaterials, Drug Delivery and Regenerative Medicine will push the boundaries of innovation and technology,” said Cockrell School Dean Sharon L. Wood. “With Nicholas’ leadership, the institute will redefine how engineers, doctors and companies collaborate to advance health care solutions — now and in the future.”

The institute is dedicated to medical research that produces large-scale engineering solutions to some of the greatest health care challenges facing society today.

For instance, patients in need of donor organs often spend years on waiting lists as their condition worsens. Institute researchers will help reduce the impact of long waits by studying pluripotent stem cells to develop organ tissue patches from patients’ own skin cells that will prolong the life of a failing organ until a donor organ becomes available. This work could eventually lead to the creation of lab-generated organs. Additionally, Texas Engineering researchers are developing new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat various forms of cancer.

The institute boasts leading experts in drug delivery who are developing specific, effective and less-invasive methods for treating disease. For example, researchers are on the cusp of creating a vaccine that instantly immunizes children exposed to pertussis, or whooping cough.

“The collaborators in our new institute are leading authorities in biomaterials, tissue engineering and drug delivery systems, and their work has already received national and international accolades,” Peppas said. “In addition, our new facilities include important new equipment for use in these advanced fields of research.”

In partnership with the Dell Medical School, the institute aims to offer a dual-degree program for third-year medical students to earn a master’s of science in biomedical engineering. Currently under review for preliminary accreditation, the program will give future doctors a stronger understanding of the development, cost and use of health care technologies.

The institute also plans to provide a series of professional education courses on trends and breakthroughs in drug delivery and biomaterials for health care entrepreneurs and small companies preparing to launch new products.

Peppas plans to grow the institute in the coming years, inviting additional investment and increasing faculty participation from across engineering disciplines. The institute’s founding members are Aaron Baker and Laura Suggs, associate professors of biomedical engineering; Hal Alper and Jennifer Maynard, associate professors of chemical engineering; and Amy Brock, Jeanne Stachowiak and Janet Zoldan, assistant professors of biomedical engineering.

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