Wake Forest, Virginia Tech plan to establish joint School of Biomedical Engineering

Wake Forest University and Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) announced plans today to establish a joint School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

The school will fill needs at both universities. Wake Forest has long sought to add an engineering program, either directly or through affiliation. Virginia Tech gains access to a medical school and its biomedical researchers.

The school is aimed at maximizing collaboration among researchers and educators in biology, engineering and medicine to advance fundamental discoveries in medicine and biology and lead to improvements in health care technologies.

Thomas K. Hearn Jr., president of Wake Forest, said the new school will aid in the transformation of Winston-Salem’s economy. “The school will strengthen Wake Forest’s intellectual resources, thereby strengthening the capabilities of the Piedmont Triad Research Park.”

The recently established National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering as part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may provide a consistent source of funding.

To support the school, Wake Forest School of Medicine is establishing a Center for Biomedical Engineering with participation by 13 departments, which are putting up $1.5 million to launch the center. The Center will administer the program at Wake Forest. Virginia Tech already has a parallel Center for Biomedical Engineering with more than 20 active faculty members.

“This is a natural partnership between Virginia Tech, which has no human medical school, and Wake Forest, which does not have an engineering school,” said Charles W. Steger, Virginia Tech president. “We are extremely excited about affiliating with a highly respected university like Wake Forest.”

“We have set goals of ranking in the top tier of medical schools in NIH funding and in annual licensing revenues,” said Dr. Richard Dean, senior vice president for health affairs of Wake Forest. “Currently, all of the top NIH-funded institutions have an engineering school or biomedical engineering department. This new school will address the goals of both institutions.”

“For more than ten years, we have worked to establish an engineering program at Wake Forest,” said Dr. C. Douglas Maynard, interim dean of Wake Forest School of Medicine and former chair of the Department of Radiology. “This program will make that goal a reality.”

If the planning proceeds as hoped, the universities would jointly admit the first students in the fall of 2002. The plan envisions jointly awarding master of science, Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. degrees, with the names and seals of both institutions appearing on the diplomas.

The planners envision a student body of at least 80 to 100 students within five years. The school would provide a needed biomedical engineering resource for southwest Virginia, northwest North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.

Operationally, the school would be run jointly by Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and Wake Forest School of Medicine.

The Wake Forest trustees on Oct. 5 authorized the university “to proceed with an agreement with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for the creation of a Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences with joint academic degree programs, collaborative research efforts, faculty and student exchanges, a common administration and other related matters.” The resolution authorized the Health Affairs Committee and Executive Committee of the trustees to provide for “any necessary implementing resolutions, including funding resolutions.”

The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors today also authorized continuing discussions.

Students will be in residence at one or the other university, but biomedical engineering courses taught at one campus will be offered on the other campus via distance learning. Faculty members at one campus will be granted adjunct appointments on the other campus.

“Both schools–Virginia Tech and Wake Forest — have tried to get biomedical engineering going, which we have done in our own limited way,” said Peter Santago, chair of the Department of Medical Engineering in the Division of Radiologic Sciences at Wake Forest. “They have an excellent engineering school and no medical school; we have an excellent medical school and no engineering school. The possibilities of this collaborative effort are extensive.”

Note to Editors: At Wake Forest School of Medicine, contact Bob Conn, Jim Steele or Mark Wright at 336-716-4587. Peter Santago, chair of Wake Forest’s Department of Medical Engineering, can be reached at 336-716-6890 (716-2703). At Wake Forest’s Reynolda Campus, contact Kevin P. Cox at 336-758-5237. At Virginia Tech, contact Larry Hincker at 540-231-5396 or James Bohland, senior fellow for biomedical, bioengineering and health projects, at 540-231-5517.

Categories: University Announcement