The biomedical device industry, which grew remarkably in California during the 1990s, faces an obstacle to continued expansion – a shortage of prospective employees trained for the unique technical challenges at the intersection of biomedicine and engineering.
In response to the industry’s demand, the department of biomedical engineering has obtained a three-year, $1 million grant from the Whitaker Foundation to step its operation up a level. It is also receiving matching funds from the USC School of Engineering and additional support from USC’s Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering, according to David D’Argenio, professor of biomedical engineering and chair of the department.
About 65 percent of California’s bioscience firms – of which there are more than 4,000 – focus on medical device and instrumentation development, D’Argenio said.
“Most of these are small- to medium-size companies. They are especially looking for people whose education has not only included fundamental exposure to the principles that underlie biomedical device and diagnostic technologies, but who have also been introduced to aspects of technology development through their laboratory courses, project classes and internships,” D’Argenio said.
The aim of the new Whitaker-funded efforts is to provide just that: engineers with specific training in the field that has produced such modern marvels as pacemakers, cochlear implants and automated insulin pumps. The industry aspires to even more science-fictionesque advances, such as artificial retinas and neural stimulators to restore control over paralyzed limbs.
The biomedical engineering department is expanding both the graduate and undergraduate degree programs, D’Argenio said, and will add three new full-time faculty members. Specifically, the department will:
o Add a specialty track in biomedical device and diagnostic technologies at the graduate level, and offer fellowship support for students who pursue it. It will also develop new courses such as “Applied Electrophysiology” and “Implantable Sensor Systems.”
o Introduce new upper-division undergraduate courses, such as “Development and Regulation of Medical Products” and “Biomedical Design and Technology.”
o Establish an undergraduate internship program with selected regional biomedical device companies and with the Mann Institute.
o Recruit three new faculty members into the department, with research and educational interests in areas relevant to the next generation of implantable devices, sensors and diagnostic technologies.
Three new graduate fellows supported by the Whitaker grant were recruited last spring and began this semester, D’Argenio said; the new faculty members are expected to arrive at USC by 2002.