Biomedical engineering links Emory, Georgia Tech in medical discoveries

Larry McIntire, PhD

Despite its youth, the 20-year-old field of biomedical engineering is the fastest growing engineering academic program today. The joint Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory, with Larry McIntire as chair, has emerged on the forefront of biotechnology-related research and education.

“By integrating the fields of life sciences with engineering,” McIntire explains, “we can better understand the mechanisms of disease and develop new ways to diagnose and treat medical problems. We are working collaboratively in the fields of biomedical nanotechnology, predictive health, regenerative medicine, and health care robotics, among others.

A few recent advances from the department include:

  • Ravi Bellamkonda, along with Bob McKeon in Cell Biology, developed an improved version of an enzyme that “digests” the dense scar tissue that forms when the central nervous system is damaged. Bellamkonda was the lead author of a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.Along with radiology researchers, Bellamkonda’s lab also is developing imaging nanoprobes for non-invasively testing the leakiness of tumor blood vessels and predicting the effects of chemotherapy on breast tumors. This research was published in  Radiology.
  • Ajit Yoganathan, Matthew Paden (pediatrics), and James Fortenberry (pediatrics) are developing a new kidney replacement device specifically designed for children. The NIH awarded the team a $1 million challenge grant to refine a prototype device for children who require dialysis but have to use adult-sized equipment.
  • Michael Davis, Niren Murthy, and grad student Jay Sy have developed tiny polymer beads that can slowly release anti-inflammatory drugs and break down into nontoxic components. Injecting the particles could cut scar tissue formed after heart attack and boost the heart’s ability to pump blood. The research was published in Nature Materials.
  • Xiaoping Hu, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and director of Emory’s Biomedical Imaging Center, has found a simple way to give mammalian cells a magnetic signature. These cells can produce tiny magnetic nuggets after the introduction of a single gene from bacteria. The gene MagA could become a valuable tool for tracking cells’ movement through the body via magnetic resonance imaging. Hu’s research was published in Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

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