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Media Contact: Denine Hagen
Telephone: 619-534-2920
FAX: 619-822-1009

October 14, 1998
Media Contacts:
UC San Diego: Denine Hagen (619) 534-2920
Whitaker Foundation: Frank Blanchard (703) 528-2430

$22 Million in Private Donations Support New Vision for Bioengineering at the Irwin and Joan Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego

Editor's Note: Complete description of the Bioengineering Initiative is available upon request or can be viewed on the Web. Click here.

The Whitaker Foundation today announced a $13.8 million Leadership Award to the Department of Bioengineering at the Irwin and Joan Jacobs School of Engineering, University of California, San Diego. The Jacobs School also announced today that the Charles Lee Powell Foundation has committed $8 million to bioengineering.

The Whitaker Foundation Leadership Award is the single largest foundation donation ever made to UC San Diego. Together with the Powell Foundation gift, the Jacobs School of Engineering will construct a new building uniquely designed to propel bioengineering into the 21st century. The five-story facility will be named the Powell-Focht Bioengineering Building, in honor of the late San Diego Superior Court Judge James L. Focht. Construction of the 47,000 net square-foot building (equivalent to 78,000 gross square-feet) will begin in 1999.

Through these extraordinary awards, the Jacobs School will add eight new faculty, nearly doubling the size of its Department of Bioengineering. Two of the new faculty will hold joint appointments between the Jacobs School and the School of Medicine, further enhancing the strong collaborations between the two schools on the UC San Diego campus. The Department of Bioengineering will also launch a visionary new education, research, and technology transfer initiative.

These remarkable gifts will allow us to sustain and enhance the excellence of our Bioengineering Department, which is ranked among the very best in the country, and will allow us to build a program on the scale which is necessary to realize the promise that bioengineering holds for improving medical care," said Robert Conn, dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering.

Bioengineering is a young scientific field, which uses engineering principles to understand important problems in biology, medicine and healthcare.

There has been an unprecedented explosion of new biological information generated through programs like the Human Genome Project," said Shu Chien, chair of the Department of Bioengineering and principal investigator of the Whitaker Foundation Leadership Award. "It is our challenge to synthesize this information by using a combination of engineering and biomedical sciences, and organize it in a way that will lead to medical advances to improve the health and well-being of people as we enter the next millenium. We are extremely grateful to the Whitaker Foundation and the Powell Foundation for partnering with us to realize this vision."

The Bioengineering Initiative at the Jacobs School, UC San Diego

The bioengineering initiative is a strategic plan for education, research and technology transfer. The initiative will build on UC San Diego's existing strengths in biomechanics, cardiovascular research and tissue engineering to:

  • Educate biomedical engineers who will be the future leaders of the biotechnology industry by providing hands-on, interdisciplinary training. For example, the Powell-Focht Bioengineering Building will include core education labs where students will learn how to use emerging engineering technologies and how to apply them to biological studies.
  • Improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases such as heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, osteoarthritis and liver disease. Create these improvements by combining studies of engineering factors such as mechanical forces with research on biomedical functions such as molecular interactions.
  • Organize biological information using systems engineering approaches in order to develop deep understanding of the genetic and molecular basis of biological function from single cells to the whole organism. For example, techniques used by electrical engineers to make tiny integrated circuits on computer chips will be used to understand how genes identified through the Human Genome Project interact to coordinate the function of the organs and systems in our bodies.
  • Create advanced medical treatments by combining new understanding of biological function with emerging technologies such as tissue engineering and gene therapy.
  • Engage the enormous talent and resources of the UC San Diego science and engineering faculty, the School of Medicine, San Diego Supercomputer Center; neighboring institutes such as the Salk Institute, the Scripps Research Institute, and the Burnham Institute; and regional biotechnology industry. Focus these resources on using bioengineering approaches to develop medical treatments.

To support the bioengineering initiative, the Jacobs School at UC San Diego will:

  • Nearly double the department size from 10 faculty to 18 faculty over a five-year period of focused growth.
  • Construct the Powell-Focht Bioengineering Building to accommodate growth in faculty and student population.
  • Equip hands-on education laboratories and core research facilities available to all faculty, students and industry partners working through the bioengineering initiative.
  • Establish a Technology Transfer and Development Center, which will include laboratory space and business planning support to help start-up companies get off the ground.

The Whitaker Foundation Leadership Award

The Department of Bioengineering at UC San Diego and Johns Hopkins University were selected by the Whitaker Foundation as the first recipients of the newly created competitive Leadership Award. The goal of the new program is to take advantage of extraordinary opportunities for developing or enhancing the biomedical engineering infrastructure at major research universities.

The Whitaker Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation that primarily supports biomedical engineering research and education. Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than $380 million to colleges and universities to support faculty research, graduate fellowships, program development and construction of facilities.

The Charles Lee Powell Foundation Provides Longtime Support To UC San Diego

The new bioengineering building at the Jacobs School of Engineering will be named in honor of the late San Diego Superior Court Judge James Focht, who demonstrated a deep commitment to UC San Diego during his years of service to the Powell Foundation Board and through his personal generosity to the university.

The Powell Foundation has been a great benefactor to UC San Diego and the Jacobs School of Engineering and has supported faculty research, student fellowships, equipment, and the construction of the Powell Structural Research Facilities. The Foundation's support to UC San Diego over the years totals more than $20 million, including the $8 million pledge for bioengineering. The Foundation was formed from the estate of noted Los Angeles civil engineer Charles Lee Powell.

Bioengineering at the Jacobs School, UC San Diego

The bioengineering program at UC San Diego was established in 1966 by founding faculty members Y.C. Fung, Marcos Intaglietta, and the late Benjamin Zweifach. The first graduate students were accepted into the program in 1968. The program started as a division in the Department of Applied Mechanics and Engineering Sciences, and reached international prominence in bioengineering education over a 20- year period. During the late 1980's the research and education program grew significantly as a result of the recruitment of additional faculty and the outstanding accomplishments of the faculty, researchers, and students. In 1991, the Institute for Biomedical Engineering was established as a campus-wide organized research unit, solidifying already strong collaborations with the School of Medicine. In 1993, bioengineering received important support from the Whitaker Foundation through its Development Award Program. Bioengineering was established as a Department within the School of Engineering in 1994. The Department was ranked number one in the country for graduate education in the 1995 National Academy of Sciences survey, and number three in the nation in the 1998 U.S. News and World Report survey of graduate schools.

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