Hopkins to use grant for new building $17 million to create biomedical facility

October 15, 1998|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The Johns Hopkins University will use a $17 million grant to build and operate a facility dedicated to the growing field of biomedical engineering.

The building, planned for the Homewood campus, will be part of Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering, where biomedical engineering is one of the most popular areas of study among undergraduates.

The grant comes from the Whitaker Foundation, a Rosslyn, Va.-based group that has made support of biomedical engineering its specialty.

"This grant will allow us to move forward into areas of biomedical engineering research that the National Institutes of Health has identified as the high-priority areas for the 21st century," said Murray Sachs, chairman of Hopkins' biomedical engineering department who will head the new Biomedical Engineering Institute.

The institute will be housed in a 60,000-square-foot facility to be named in honor of Hopkins trustee A. James Clark, who recently gave the university $10 million for construction of the building. The cost for constructing and staffing the building through the year 2006 is $34 million, according to Hopkins officials.

Hopkins has about 500 undergraduates majoring in biomedical engineering, as well as 100 graduate students. Although the field was once known for perfecting devices like artificial joints and valves, biomedical engineering has moved to the cellular level -- and smaller.

One of the focuses of the institute, according to Sachs, will be computational modeling -- building computer models of human organs starting from genes.

Sachs said the institute would also have a facility that would allow it to explore the interaction between cells and other matter, helping in the design and construction of artificial organs and other such devices.

"This field is just exploding," said Sachs, who noted that there are extensive commercial possibilities in biomedical technology.

Although most of the current biomedical engineering faculty are associated with the Hopkins Medical Institutions in East Baltimore, some 12 faculty members will be hired to staff the institute and will be based at Homewood.

Sachs said plans are to break ground for the building next summer, with opening in the fall of 2000. It will be located in an area primarily used for parking just to the west of Garland Hall, the main administration building.

"The foundation has supported Hopkins in the past, and this grant will allow them to continue the important and significant work they are doing," said Frank Blanchard, spokesman for the Whitaker Foundation.

Hopkins is one of the first two recipients of the Whitaker Foundation's Leadership Awards, its biggest grants given to institutions in the forefront of biomedical engineering. The other went to the University of California at San Diego.

Blanchard said Uncas A. Whitaker, an electronics manufacturer who left the money to start the foundation, often brought engineers and medical people together to solve problems. When he died in 1975, those in charge of the foundation created in his will decided to make the then-new field of biomedical engineering its specialty.

"People in this field were having trouble getting government support, because they fell between the cracks of established fields," Blanchard said.

The foundation has decided to spend itself out of business in the next eight years, according to Blanchard, meaning that some $400 million and whatever interest it accumulates would be used to support biomedical engineering between now and 2006.

Pub Date: 10/15/98

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