Reaching Toward the Biomedical Future

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Thanks to nanoscale electronics, there’s a revolution under way in the medical sciences. A new USC pro-
gram joins engineering and medical students in the quest for miraculous devices to improve human health.
by Eric Mankin and Leslie Ridgeway

The two young academics sitting in a bare, basic conference room are smiling, excited, interrupting each other to talk about the project they are working on. The striking thing is that the source of their contagious youthful enthusiasm is not a new gadget (although one of them designs electrical devices) or a new business enterprise. Rather, George Tolomiczenko and Terry Sanger are redefining the educational program for two of the most venerable and human professions: medicine and engineering. It is a project that brought Sanger from Stanford University to USC, and one that he and the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering have been patiently nurturing for years.

It is now an official go: In August 2011, a class of 12 carefully selected candidates, half medical students and half graduate students in engineering, will begin studying and working together in a way never before done at any other university. In 2012 and beyond, the class size will double.The program, HTE@USC (HTE stands for “Health, Technology, and Engineering”), is a major step in fulfilling a vision emphasized by USC president C. L. Max Nikias in his inaugural speech on the steps of Doheny Memorial Library last October. Nikias said he wanted “our Health Sciences campus and the University Park campus to represent one
unified USC. … Our faculty and students must bridge the distance between the two campuses with interdisciplinary work.”

Nikias often refers to the revolution in the making in the medical and biological sciences. “The queen of the sciences in the 20th century was physics – and as a result, electronics,” he said during an address on
the Health Sciences campus last August. But the very laws of physics limit the growth of conventional electronics, he continued, and electronics “will give up her crown to another queen in the 21st century. This century is poised to be the Age of Medicine and Biology.

“It is here that we will see the fastest-growing industries,” Nikias told the gathering. “New technology can reshape medicine, with applications in drug delivery and patient care.”

AT THE FOREFRONT in moving many of these new ideas from bench to bedside are USC scientists, engineers and physicians. Inter-disciplinary collaborations at labs across all campuses are yielding groundbreaking
products that are already in the marketplace. One of the most astounding is a prosthetic retina developed by Mark Humayun and his colleagues that is restoring partial sight…


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