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Engineering to offer new bioscience degrees

Paulette Spencer

Paulette Spencer

In conjunction with the expansion of the biosciences industry near Lawrence and Kansas City, the School of Engineering this fall will offer students the chance to pursue graduate degrees in the cutting edge field of bioengineering.

"These degree programs are something we've been working toward for some time," said Stuart R. Bell, dean of the School of Engineering. "We've been assembling a strong team of faculty with expertise in a variety of bioengineering disciplines and developing solid ties with researchers at the KU Medical Center, as well as elsewhere on the Lawrence campus."

Bioengineering is a collaborative approach to engineering, biology and medicine, encompassing research fields such as neural engineering, nanotechnology, biosensor development and product design. Applications include diagnosis of cancer, tissue repair and development of devices to help people with spinal cord injuries.

The launch of the doctoral and master of science degree programs in bioengineering, which the Kansas Board of Regents approved in March, will cement the status of KU as a leader in the study of life sciences. In all, nearly 50 faculty members from KU's Lawrence campus and the KU Medical Center will contribute to bioengineering instruction and investigation.

Paulette Spencer will join KU as a distinguished professor this fall to direct bioengineering research. A curator's professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and director of the UMKC Center for Research on Interfacial Structure and Properties, she is renowned for developing biomaterials to replace lost skeletal or oral tissue. Spencer, the first woman to hold a distinguished professorship at the School of Engineering, will lead the new Bioengineering Research Center.

"It will open the door to the fastest-growing field in engineering and to the discipline that is attracting the best and brightest young engineers," said Spencer. "The fundamental goal is to enable researchers to deliver advances more quickly to patients."

Innovations from bioengineering work at the university will accelerate the rise of the biosciences industry along the I-70 corridor via technology transfer and entrepreneurship. A 2006 survey by the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Initiative showed that 199 life sciences firms in the region employed between 17,500 and 20,000 people (up from 15,000 in October 2003). Of these companies, 58 percent increased employment in 2006. In all, the local life sciences sector last year accounted for approximately $638 million in expenditures.

"This is a great move forward for the entire university, our students and the people of this state," said Bell.

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