March 1998

Media Contacts: Sarah Goodwin, 404/727-3366 - sgoodwi@emory.edu
Kathi Ovnic, 404/727-9371 - covnic@emory.edu
Bob Harty, Georgia Tech, 404/894-0870

Atlanta recently grew one step closer to making its bid to join Silicon Valley, Route 128, and the Research Triangle as a research and economic powerhouse with the announcement of a joint biomedical engineering department between Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The announcement was made following a 10-year process of developing a collaborative relationship between the two institutions. The new, joint department-one of a very few such academic collaborations in the nation-merges two of the country's leading research universities in an effort to stay ahead of the pack in the competitive arena of biomedical engineering. From U.C. Berkeley, to Johns Hopkins, Michigan, and Southwest Texas, universities around the nation see the intellectual and financial benefits of biomedical research and the potential the arena holds for coveted, high tech economic growth.

The genesis of the new department was the establishment in 1987 of a joint Biomedical Technology Research Center, followed in 1990 by the creation of the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA), a nonprofit group pooling the state's resources in education, industry and government. In 1995 the two institutions established a joint M.D./Ph.D. program, with the M.D. degree being awarded by Emory and the Ph.D. in bioengineering being awarded by Georgia Tech.

Last August, the two Atlanta universities continued their climb into the elite of national universities, with the release of U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best College Rankings." Emory ranked 9th among all national universities and Georgia Tech was rated No. 9 among public universities.

In the most recent U.S. News ranking of professional schools, Emory University School of Medicine placed 19th among 125 medical schools in the country. Additionally, Georgia Tech's bioengineering program was ranked 8th in the last U.S. News evaluation.

"To have two universities within 10 miles of one another rank among the very best universities in the nation is a real plus for Atlanta," said Georgia Tech President G. Wayne Clough. "When you look at areas of the country which excel in economic development, you will almost always find a core of outstanding universities at the center. From the Silicon Valley in California, to the Research Triangle in North Carolina, to Route 128 in Boston; it is the Stanfords, the North Carolinas, and the MITs which have a profound impact on economic development and quality of life. I think the collective reputations that Emory and Georgia Tech bring to this unique biomedical engineering department can help the Atlanta area further improve our economic situation and quality of life."

Emory President William M. Chace spent his early years in academia at Stanford University where, he says, he learned to appreciate the "power of such partnerships."

"This new department will enable Emory and the Georgia Institute of Technology to move into a very small group of national institutions able to draw together the diverse resources involved in biomedical engineering," Chace remarked. "It will encourage our researchers to work together in a seamless way in a new field that possesses great promise. Adding two strong Georgia universities to that club is good for the State of Georgia and, we believe strongly, for higher education in general."

Research in biomedical engineering holds the potential for major brreakthroughs in medicine, basic science, and applied technology. Innovations in medical imaging, computer-assisted surgery, innovative medical devices and more efficient delivery of drugs to disease sites will be research pursuits for the new department.

"One of the measures of the potential of the rapidly expanding area of biomedical engineering is its identification by the National Institutes of Health as a critical area for support," said Thomas J. Lawley, M.D., dean of Emory University's School of Medicine. "The creation of this department will allow Emory and Georgia Tech to become more competitive for such funding. But more importantly, it will enable us to strengthen a number of existing shared programs with Georgia Tech, conduct research that will impact the health of our patients and enhance the training of our students and residents."

Don Giddens, Ph.D., former chair of the Johns Hopkins College of Engineering, is one of the architects of the new department and will assume its chairmanship. "From building upon recent advances in breast cancer detection by dramatically improving internal imaging and cell analysis, to earlier detection of Alzheimer's Disease, to dramatically reducing the trauma of surgery, biomedical engineering holds vast potential," said Dr. Giddens.

Michael M. E. Johns, M.D., Emory's executive vice president for Health Affairs and director of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center, had the opportunity to work with Dr. Giddens when both men were at Johns Hopkins, where Dr. Johns oversaw the development of a technology transfer program widely considered a model of its kind.

"With the return of Don Giddens to Atlanta and the establishment of this new academic biomedical engineering program between two strong and ambitious universities, we believe we have taken enormous steps forward in establishing Georgia as a biotechnology capital," said Dr. Johns.

The chair of the new department will report jointly to the dean of Medicine at Emory and the dean of Engineering at Georgia Tech, a structure unique in higher education. Current plans for the new academic unit call for 18 faculty, with 12 tenure track faculty from Georgia Tech and six from Emory. The department plan is to fill all of the positions over the next five years. Long-term plans are for the department to have space in a research building to be constructed at Emory and to have space in an academic wing of a building to be constructed at Georgia Tech.


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