Will enhance MNTL’s ability to translate research into clinical practice; MNTL research will be important element of college’s curriculum

New engineering-based College of Medicine coming to Urbana campus

The University of Illinois is establishing the nation’s first college of medicine focused, from the beginning, on the intersection of engineering and medicine. A partnership between the U of I’s Urbana campus and Carle Health System in Urbana, the new college will integrate the university’s unparalleled assets in engineering, technology, and supercomputing with Carle’s comprehensive health care system to train a new kind of doctor—one who can invent, discover, and problem solve, in addition to provide high-quality care to patients.

The new college, which will welcome its first 25 students in the fall of 2018, will be funded through private philanthropy, medical school tuition, corporate investment and future revenue from new inventions. Carle, a leader in high-quality, cost-effective, and coordinated patient care, has pledged $100 million in the first 10 years, including $34.5 million for start-up costs.

In June, Chicago-based Jump Trading, a financial technology firm, provided $10 million to launch the Jump Simulation Center at Illinois. The Center, which will be located in Everitt Lab, the future home of the Bioengineering Department, will provide medical and engineering students with a simulated clinical environment, where they can learn to use new medical devices, new mobile, low-cost technologies for rural and developing areas, new simulation tools, and new bio-fabrication and bio-printing techniques.

 “This is the first gift of this size to the new College of Medicine, and it defines what we will accomplish with a new engineering-based medical school,” said Phyllis M. Wise, chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

MNTL Director Brian Cunningham envisions the College of Medicine will help facilitate new interactions between MNTL researchers and the medical community.  

“The new College of Medicine will bring clinical researchers from many disciplines into closer proximity with MNTL faculty, providing opportunities for discussions that lead to research collaborations, and for research collaborations to translate into clinical practice,” said Cunningham, who recently led the formation of a new Center for Vision Engineering, which brings ophthalmologist faculty at the U of I Chicago campus together with Urbana engineering faculty for research collaborations aimed at drug delivery, diagnostic tests, surgical tools, and implanted devices.

Bioengineering Department Head Rashid Bashir, a former MNTL director, was a key member of the team that helped develop plans for the medical school and guided the proposal through the campus and Board of Trustees approval process. “Microfluidics and nanotechnology as applied to biology and medicine will be important technology pillars of the new College of Medicine – both from a curriculum and research perspective,” Bashir said. “MNTL’s Bionanotechnology Lab and cleanrooms provide unique research and educational facilities for the physician inventors and innovators of tomorrow trained in the new College of Medicine.” 

Impact of Technologies from MNTL

Many MNTL faculty are leaders in the photonics and nanoelectronics areas, and are known for creating the highest speed transistors, solid-state lasers, and integration of optical components for optical fiber communications. With the new College of Medicine, these technologies will provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration that can include laser-based therapies, optical devices for monitoring physiological health conditions, and light sources for biomedical imaging.

In addition, several MNTL researchers are already directly engaged in developing technology that will have an impact on future medical practice.

ECE Professor Brian Cunningham (left) and graduate student Kenny Long
ECE Professor Brian Cunningham (left) and graduate student Kenny Long

Professors Rashid BashirLogan Liu, and Brian Cunningham are working on high sensitivity biosensor technology that can be operated by miniature detection instruments for applications known as the “point of care.”  These detection technologies will enable doctors to perform tests and get quick results in remote health clinics, pharmacies, and in some cases, even in the patients’ home. Currently, such tests are performed in clinical diagnostic laboratories and often take hours or days to yield results.

Materials Science & Engineering Assistant Professor Kris Kilian is developing innovative approaches to regenerative medicine—a new, promising area that has the potential to heal damaged tissue and organs. His group is developing materials that mimic the cellular environment to better understand the stem cell differentiation process, which is key to restoring tissue structure and function caused by injury or disease.

ECE Professor Kevin Kim, graduate student Elizabeth Joachim, and research scientist Hyungsoo Choi
ECE Professor Kevin Kim, graduate student Elizabeth Joachim, and research scientist Hyungsoo Choi

ECE Professor Kevin Kim’s group has developed a way to encapsulate drugs in biodegradable polymer microspheres that control the release of pharmaceutical compounds directly into their target tissues for high efficacy and reduced side effects.

ECE Associate Professor Xiuling Li has developed stents only a few microns big that can speed up and direct neuron growth. These tiny structures might someday help patients with Alzheimer’s or traumatic brain injury.

Bioengineering Assistant Professor Andrew Smith is developing a novel class of medical image contrast agents called quantum dots that will be used in many forms of tissue pathology to increase the contrast with which doctors can visualize disease.  Applications include early cancer detection, cancer treatment and cardiac monitoring, and metabolite tracking.

Bioengineering Assistant Professor Andrew Smith and post-doc Sung Jun Lim
Bioengineering Assistant Professor Andrew Smith and post-doc Sung Jun Lim