Preeminence helps USF build new medical engineering department

The partnership between USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and the College of Engineering can help spur new technologies, devices and processes to improve health care and reduce costs

A rare joint program between the USF College of Engineering and USF Health Morsani College of Medicine is celebrating its success, made possible by funding from the State of Florida’s preeminence program.

The newly created Department of Medical Engineering is preparing to open a wet lab that allows students and faculty to conduct tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and biomedicine experiments. Students recently started working with electronic equipment to design and build medical devices. Biomedical engineering graduate students have also been observing surgeries performed by USF Health physicians at Tampa General Hospital.

“The new medical engineering facility houses a unique, interdisciplinary program and is a shining example of the things that happen when we combine our strengths and work together,” USF System President Judy Genshaft said during a ribbon-cutting to officially launch the department’s new academic home in the Interdisciplinary Sciences Building. “This new department is already making an impressive impact, and it shows what we can achieve through preeminence.”

“This innovative partnership between medicine and engineering embodies interprofessional learning and research, which will allow us to advance patient safety and care,” said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM).  “Medical engineering can play a vital role in improving health outcomes while lowering costs.”

The Florida Board of Governors designated USF as a Preeminent State Research University in 2018, allocating more than $6 million in new funding this year, which can also be used to enhance research or student success activities in other strategic areas and attract nationally regarded faculty members.

“We wouldn’t have a new department. We wouldn’t have an undergraduate biomedical engineering major without preeminence funding,” said Robert Frisina, PhD, chair of the Department of Medical Engineering.

Professor Huabei Jiang was recruited from the University of Florida, where he served as the endowed professor of biomedical engineering. Professor George Spirou comes to USF from West Virginia University, where he was director and endowed professor of neuroscience. Together, they brought with them more than $5 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health, adding to the portfolio that helps USF rank as one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities, according to the National Science Foundation.

Samuel Wickline, MD, (left), professor of cardiology and director of the USF Health Heart Institute, is a faculty member in the Department of Medical Engineering. He is pictured here with colleague Hua Pan, PhD, a biomedical engineer.

The department’s faculty members consist of physician-scientists as well as engineers, including Stephen Liggett, MD, professor of internal medicine, molecular pharmacology and physiology and vice dean for research at MCOM, and Samuel Wickline, MD, professor of cardiology and director of the USF Health Heart Institute.

USF is one of very few universities to have a medical engineering department and just one of four in Florida to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering. Currently, 105 undergraduate students are enrolled, 45 are pursuing their master’s degree and 20 are working towards their PhD.

USF System President Judy Genshaft (center), USF Provost Ralph Wilcox; Robert Bishop, dean of the College of Engineering; Robert Frisina, chair of the Department of Medical Engineering; and Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health and MCOM dean; joined College of Engineering faculty and students to cut a ribbon to celebrating the new academic home of the medical engineering department.

“Biomedical engineering is the fastest growing area of engineering and one of the top job fields in the United States if you look at over the next 10 years. So, we were able to fill a critical gap in Florida’s State University System for training biomedical engineers,” said Frisina.

There are many career options for graduates, such as in drug development and creating medical devices. Demand is especially high due to our aging population and changes needed within the health care system.

The launch of the Department of Medical Engineering comes at an important time as the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute is slated to open in downtown Tampa in late 2019. This will allow for better synergy between biomedical engineers and their colleagues at USF Health and Tampa General Hospital.

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-Ribbon-cutting photo by Ryan Wakefield, College of Engineering