Dr. Syed
Gauntlet file photo

New biomedical engineering centre proposed

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Earlier this week, an announcement was made for yet another new project for the university to undertake. University of Calgary president Dr. Harvey Weingarten plans to propose a biomedical engineering centre to both the provincial and federal government, he said during a community presentation Oct. 15.

The centre will focus on inter-disciplinary research and will allow students to design, build and market products to improve the health of Canadians.

Cell biology and anatomy department head and special advisor to the vice-president research of biomedical engineering Dr. Naweed Syed said after careful consideration, a committee decided the centre will mainly research bone and joint engineering, neuro-engineering and cardio-respiratory engineering.

"We have strengths in various areas of biomedical engineering and they're spread sort of across six separate faculties," said Syed. "The people rub shoulders, they share infrastructure equipment, but there's not a place where everybody could sit together or conduct new experiments."

Syed explained that the university hopes to build a six or seven story building next to the Children's Hospital. The estimated cost of the building is yet to be determined. It would contain traditional clinics for patients and rehabilitation spaces where kinesiology students would work. Data collected would then be passed to engineers who can design or modify devices specific to patient's needs.

There would also be space for business students interested in marketing the products, law students studying patent law and medical students to practice procedures on cadavers with robots. In total, roughly 200 undergraduate and graduate students would study there.

"The idea is to really make it a one-stop-shop for providing better health care," he said. "We would like to create an alternative economy to oil and gas so that we can really create our own organic culture. If you think of Oxford, just by selling their dictionary they're making millions of pounds ever year. And you can imagine that if we prepare one device that is marketed and then we get revenues from it, we could make it basically a national centre."

The university hopes to hire scientists currently part of National Research Council Canada and move them to Calgary to fill gaps in research specialties. The centre would attract the best and brightest internationally, Syed argued.

"In the past we had to collaborate with the Max Plank Institute and whenever you're a university collaborating with a large institute, you have to give up a lot of rights for your intellectual property," he said.

Being a third party not only reduces the financial benefits of research, but also costs the university because of large travel budgets.

"If we can get it in our budget for this upcoming year, then I think we can get digging-- provided [the provincial and federal government] buy into it-- by 2010," he said. "I don't see is happening right away, but we can do small things to get the process going."