The National Science Foundation (NSF) has invested nearly $80 million total to create four new Engineering Research Centers (ERC) to address national challenges in health and energy sustainability and FIU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering is part of two of the pioneering centers.
The process of being named an ERC is highly competitive. NSF chose four out of more than 170 applicants.
“The fact that FIU is part of two of the NSF ERC awards speaks volumes of the work we are doing at the College of Engineering & Computing and university-wide. For FIU to be selected among some of the nation’s top universities is a huge validation and acknowledgement of the pioneering research of our faculty,” said FIU Provost and Executive Vice President Kenneth G. Furton. “This is also a credit to Ranu Jung, whose leadership in the College of Engineering & Computing led to the preparation of these proposals.”
Each of the ERCs are five-year awards for approximately $20 million, and are renewable for a total of 10 years.
Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Cellular Metamaterials (CELL-MET)
This grant totals $20 million over five years, and brings FIU together with Boston University (lead) and University of Michigan, as well as six affiliate institutions.
The loss of organs and tissues to damage or degeneration is a primary source of human disease, morbidity, and mortality. Heart disease kills over 600,000 Americans and 7 million people worldwide every year and is the leading cause of death in the US.
The CELL-MET grant will focus primarily on integrating nanotechnology for engineering personalized heart tissue for clinical use, specifically bioengineering functional heart tissue. The goal is to transform cardiovascular care by combining breakthroughs in nanotechnology, organ on chips, and manufacturing with tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
“It is very exciting to be part of CELL-MET, which is poised to revolutionize how we treat heart disease in the future,” said Ranu Jung, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
The ERC plans to accomplish four goals with the cellular metamaterials it intends to build: fabricate responsive heart tissue containing muscle cells and blood vessels; control and characterize the tissue function and structureusing nanotechnology; scale the process up to easily create multiple copies of the tissue; and personalize the product, so it can be tailored to individual patients.
FIU’s BME department will play a crucial role in the ERC by helping the team to develop reliable characterization methods as well as assist with education and outreach. Dr. Chenzhong Li, professor of biomedical engineering and a key member of the ERC team, will use an integrated biosensing approach for real time monitoring of cellular response. Real-time monitoring and control of tissue engineering processes is especially crucial for successful generation of 3D cardiac tissues.
Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Underserved Populations (PATHS-UP)
The PATHS-UP grant awarded by NSF aims to develop revolutionary and cost-effective health technologies to deliver to underserved populations at the point-of-care. There will be an emphasis on diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in the development of these technologies.
Texas A&M University is the lead university and FIU’s other institutional partners include Rice University and the University of California at Los Angeles. The FIU leadership team from the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical & Materials Engineering, as well as the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine includes Jessica Ramella-Roman (Co-PI), Chenzhong Li, Chunlei Wang and Norman Munroe.
“I believe that we will be able to make a difference in the way medical care is provided in the future,” said Jessica Ramella-Roman, professor of biomedical engineering. “In the process, we will form an all new generation of engineers-scientist that will have not only advanced technical knowhow but also a heightened sensitivity for the problems of underserved communities.”
“This award is a true collaborative project and integration of the technical strength of biosensing research in the department of biomedical engineering,” added Chenzhong Li, group leader of Nanobioenigneering/Bioelectronics Lab.
The BME department houses nanobioengineering, bioelectronics and imaging labs that offer state-of-the-art capabilities in biophotonics and bioelectronics. Ramella-Roman’s laboratory will focus efforts in the development of new methods to quantify biomolecular tissue content.
“We are thrilled to partner in the exciting and groundbreaking research of the two ERCs that will provide health systems for underserved populations and revolutionize the way we treat heart disease; engineering human health and the quality of life,” said Jung. “We are also very proud that women in engineering, will lead many of these innovations”.