Public Release: 

CWRU to host regional NAE biomedical conference

Case Western Reserve University

CLEVELAND -- Case Western Reserve University will host the regional conference of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) "Biomedical Technology: Challenges and Opportunities" will be held from 1-5 p.m. Thursday, May 4 at Reinberger Auditorium in Severance Hall.

Walter Gilbert -- biotech pioneer, Nobel Laureate, and professor of biomedical science at Harvard University -- will give the keynote address. The conference will feature speakers at the forefront of research and practical applications in genetics, tissue engineering, miniature medical devices, and medical imaging.

"Biomedical technology is one of the most exciting fields for discovery," said NAE Home Secretary Simon Ostrach, chairman of the organizing committee, and the W.J. Austin Distinguished Professor of Engineering at CWRU. "Significant work is going on right here in Cleveland, at Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, and University Hospitals. We want to draw attention to the topic and the region."

Trevor Jones, chairman and CEO of BIOMEC Inc. and a member of the National Academy of Engineers, says Northeast Ohio-based start-up companies such as AMMI, Athersys, BIOMEC, Gliatech, NeuroControl, and NetGenics have joined established firms such as Invacare and Steris to make Northeast Ohio a center for emerging biomedical technologies.

"We are in the process of combining our product development and manufacturing experience with Cleveland's leadership in biomedical research," said Jones. "With the help of the Edison Biotechnology Center (EBTC) and the Northeast Ohio Technology Coalition (NorTech), these new businesses will thrive and participate in the more than $150 billion annual U.S. biomedical device market."

Gilbert will deliver remarks on the future of biomedical technology. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980 for his work on special building blocks of genes called introns and exons.

Much of the genetic material of any organism, whether in fruit flies or humans, is similar to that of other organisms. Gilbert and his team of researchers investigate how different "modules" of genetic information are hooked up to give instructions to cells and tissues. At the root of the investigations is the mystery of how life on earth arose three billion years ago from the chemical soup that comprised earth, and why those molecules have been so steadily conserved as life evolved.

Gilbert also helped found leading biotechnology companies such as Biogen and Boston Scientific, and is chairman of NetGenics, a Cleveland-based biotech software start-up company.

Gail K. Naughton - co-founder, president, and chief operating officer of Advanced Tissue Sciences Inc. in La Jolla, California -- will discuss progress in repairing and replacing human tissues. The company has already marketed synthetic and human skin replacements to treat burns and skin ulcers and is developing special cartilage replacements for those who suffer joint injuries or arthritis, and small blood vessels that will repair themselves and grow normally.

Aravinda Chakravarti, professor of genetics at CWRU and a world leader in human genetics and genomics, will discuss how variations in genes lead to variations in functions in organisms, and the technologies for assessing molecular variation in large scale. Chakravarti is especially interested in identifying sequence variations that underlie common human diseases, with a focus on human birth defects and cardiovascular disorders.

Gregory T. A. Kovacs, professor of electrical engineering and medicine at Stanford University, has been at the forefront of developing micromachined devices, sometimes known as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), that act as biological or chemical sensors. Kovacs will discuss the progress and problems in employing such devices in miniaturized biomedical instruments that are used to diagnose diseases and find new medicines, and are suitable for genetic applications.

Thomas J. Meade, a faculty member in the division of biology at the Beckman Institute of the California Institute of Technology, will outline advances in biomedical imaging technologies. Meade has specialized in developing new tools including microscopic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which allow scientists to peer into biological processes on a molecular level. Meade is conducting groundbreaking studies of topics that include nerve growth and gene therapies in live animals.

The National Academy of Engineering is an honorific organization of distinguished engineers who have made special contributions to the field. It advises the federal government on engineering policies, practices, and research, among other duties.

William A. Wulf, president of the NAE, will join David H. Auston, president of CWRU, and Roderick G.W. Chu, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, in giving opening comments at the conference.

The conference is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. For additional information about the conference and to register, visit the conference Web site at http://www.nae2000.org .

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