New biomedical institute to grow university research, technology transfer enterprise

The University of Nebraska is launching a new biomedical technology institute that will position NU as a leader in key areas of research and development and expand opportunities for faculty, staff and students to partner with the private sector, commercialize their discoveries, and help grow the state’s workforce and economy.

The Nebraska Advanced Biomedical Technology Innovation and Discovery Institute, approved by the Board of Regents in November, will be jointly led by the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha. The two campuses already have collaborative programs in place in critical areas like bioinformatics, robotics, biomechanics, simulation and visualization and other areas, and through the new institute will expand partnerships with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Kearney and other public and private institutions.

“Biomedical technology represents a major opportunity for us to fill a rapidly growing job market, attract talented scientists, students and entrepreneurs to our state, and more effectively meet the health needs of Nebraskans,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, M.D. “The new biomedical institute will provide us with an advantage to compete for and develop an emerging, highly skilled workforce that also will assist the state in retaining Nebraska’s best and brightest. We’re incredibly excited about the potential this initiative has to advance Nebraska’s economic competitiveness and improve health care for people in our state and around the world.”

UNO Chancellor John Christensen said, “Cutting-edge biomedical research is already taking place at UNO, UNMC and across the university. Nebraska is positioned to become a national model in addressing some of the most significant challenges facing health care today – like providing higher-quality care for lower cost, preventing disease, ensuring national security, and delivering health services to critical populations including rural residents, veterans, and underserved socio-economic groups as well as those living in major metropolitan areas.”

The Nebraska Advanced Biomedical Technology Innovation and Discovery Institute is among the components of the university’s 2015-17 biennial budget request, to be considered by policymakers during the legislative session that began this week. NU’s budget request includes a $20 million economic competitiveness package that seeks to advanced university initiatives related to workforce development, talent recruitment, public-private partnerships, and research and innovation.

About $2 million of the package would support the launch of the biomedical institute, including recruitment of faculty, general operations and equipment, and other expenses such as venture capital funds and internal grants to support technology transfer efforts. Other sources of funding, including private philanthropy, are being explored to supplement the state support.

Dr. Gold noted that UNMC and UNO asked the Stanford Research Institute International, a leading independent research and innovation center headquartered in Silicon Valley, to analyze the biomedical technology capabilities of the two campuses and the opportunities for expanded biomedical research and technology development in Omaha and across Nebraska. SRI found that biomedical technology is a strategic and logical area for growth, given the university’s existing strengths, the competitive information infrastructure in Omaha, the growing market for biomedical products and services, and rapidly expanding career opportunities in relevant fields.

For example, employment opportunities in biomedical engineering are projected to grow 27 percent in the coming decade, much faster than the nation’s overall job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As Baby Boomers live longer and more active lives, they are expected to need more biomedical devices and procedures, such as hip and knee replacements; the population as a whole also will demand more biomedical solutions for their health problems, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts. According to the bureau, by 2020 there will be 25,000 biomedical engineering jobs in the U.S.; the current median salary is $87,000.

SRI International reported that advances in biomedical technology are critical to meeting national and regional needs in health care. NU researchers already are nationally known in biomechanics, biochemical defense, drug delivery, telemedicine, and robotic and computer-assisted surgery. Yet SRI also found that biomedical research and bioengineering research and development funding in Nebraska is low compared to national leaders – representing an opportunity for significant growth.

The University of Nebraska’s National Strategic Research Institute will be a key partner to the new biomedical institute. A focus will be development of new medical techniques and technologies relevant to NSRI’s mission to advance national security and defense.

Other goals for the biomedical institute include a 40 percent increase in the annual number of new inventions in biomedical engineering, growth in biomedical technology-related licenses and startup activity, and increased scholarly publications in relevant areas.

A national search for an executive director of the biomedical institute will begin immediately, with that person reporting up to the UNMC and UNO chancellors.

The other components of the university’s economic competitiveness package are:

  • Peter Kiewit Institute ($4.5 million)
  • Nebraska Innovation Campus ($4 million)
  • Health Science Education Complex in Kearney ($2 million)
  • Rural Futures Institute ($1.5 million)
  • National Strategic Research Institute ($1.5 million)
  • Business engagement & workforce development initiatives across all four campuses, including efforts to advance science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in Nebraska ($2 million); support for the UNO-based Nebraska Business Development Center and other entrepreneurship and business accelerator efforts ($2 million); and expanded support for veterans at the university, such as counseling, advising, career services, learning communities and financial aid ($500,000).

SOUND BITES

  • “World-Class Leader”
    UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, M.D., describes the vision for the University of Nebraska’s new biomedical technology institute to be an economic driver for the state and a national leader in key areas of research and development.

  • “Nebraska as a Test Bed”
    Chancellor Gold explains that through the new biomedical institute, Nebraska has an opportunity to serve as a national model in leveraging biomedical technology to advance health care, including to underserved groups.

  • “Fast-Growing Occupations”
    Chancellor Gold explains that jobs in biomedical technology are projected to grow faster than many other occupations, driven in part by rising demand for new medical devices and procedures to serve an aging population.

  • “Tremendous Opportunity”
    UNO Chancellor John Christensen notes that in initial conversations with key stakeholders, the university has received positive feedback on the concept of a biomedical institute serving Omaha, Nebraska and beyond.

  • “Compare to Biomechanics”
    Chancellor Christensen confirms that students will have meaningful opportunities to be involved in the activities of the biomedical institute, similar to the way they are engaged in UNO’s nationally recognized biomechanics research efforts.

Contact: Melissa Lee
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