The joint Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences won final approval Wednesday (March 19) from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).
On Feb. 14, the new school had won approval from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, which has a similar role to the SCHEV in North Carolina.
Gordon A. Melson, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Wake Forest, said the new school will begin enrolling graduate students in the fall. Students already have applied in the hopes that the school would be approved.
The school plugs a hole on both campuses; Virginia Tech has no medical school and Wake Forest has long sought to add an engineering program. The school also may help in attracting biomedical companies to Winston-Salem and to the Piedmont Triad Research Park.
Melson explained that Wake Forest needed approval of SCHEV to operate in Virginia while the UNC Board of Governors had to give Virginia Tech permission to operate in North Carolina. The seals of both universities will be on diplomas awarded by the joint school.
It was the final hurdle in a long process that began when the school was announced by the two universities on Oct. 16, 2001. Research collaboration already has begun on a range of biomedical engineering projects, said Peter Santago II, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Medical Engineering at Wake Forest University and director of the Center for Biomedical Engineering.
"Engineers put theory into practice," Santago said. "They solve problems in biology and medicine using engineering methods."
The research thrust is to take fundamental discoveries in medicine and biology and turn them into improvements in health care technology. The school will focus on improving imaging, biomechanics and tissue and cell engineering. Wake Forest already is a leader in finding new ways to use imaging such as CT, MRI and PET scanning.
The recently established National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, a part of the National Institutes of Health, may provide a consistent source of funding.
The school is a collaboration of Centers of Biomedical Engineering on both campuses. Wake Forest''s center is itself a collaboration of 15 departments of the School of Medicine, which put up $1.5 million two years ago to launch the center. Virginia Tech''s center has more than 20 active faculty.
In the fall of 2002, the universities offered distance learning classes on biomedical engineering, mammalian physiology, and signaling. The mammalian physiology class was taught due to a major effort by the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, coordinated by Kent Vrana Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology.
"Teaching physiology to biomedical engineering students is absolutely essential," said Santago. "They must be able to meld biology and engineering."
This pattern will continue when the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences begins teaching students in the fall. Students will be in residence at one campus or the other, but biomedical engineering courses taught at one campus will be offered on the other campus via distance learning. Sometimes students will travel to the other campus.
The plan for the school envisions awarding master of science, Ph.D., M.D./Ph.D. and D.V.M./Ph.D degrees.
Operationally, the school will be run by Virginia Tech''s College of Engineering, Wake Forest University''s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and School of Medicine and a third institution, the Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.
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