University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials (UWEB) Transitions Into the 21st Century

Opinion

In 1996, I received a $40M+, 11-year grant from the National Science Foundation to launch University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials (UWEB). UWEB focused on the biomaterials used to make medical devices and medical diagnostics. Medical devices and diagnostics are estimated to be a $150B+ endeavor. Though devices manufactured by the medical industry save lives and improve the quality of life for millions, there are significant issues that impede device performance and increase costs to the healthcare system and the patient. These issues include blood clotting, infection, poor healing, fouling, mineralization, degradation, and scarring. UWEB approached these compelling problems though collaborative, interdisciplinary teams that included engineers, materials scientists, chemists, biologists, physicians, and dentists.

The research program addressed issues confronting biomaterials and medical devices with an eye toward the needs of patients and the industry. In 11 years, UWEB revolutionized implant healing, developed new strategies to address calcification, evolved fouling-resistant surfaces, proposed new blood compatible surfaces, invented approaches to reduce infection on biomaterials, and invented drug delivery strategies. Also, UWEB expanded its scope to include tissue engineering (heart, esophagus, bladder, cornea, bone, cartilage, etc.). UWEB innovations led to at least 6 spin-off companies, including Asemblon and Healionics. Finally, a generation of students was trained in understanding modern biomaterials and also how industry works. These students now fill numerous positions in major companies, research labs, hospitals, and universities.

It’s time to take the next step and get industry more directly involved. UWEB-21 will take UWEB and expand it to the next level—a program to address needs for 21st-century biomaterials. My proposal is that UWEB laboratories and scientists will partner with UWEB-21 consortium companies to provide analytical services, to collaborate on research and device development, to pursue funding opportunities, to review IP licensing opportunities, and to assist with recruitment and training.

So I’m looking to the community for involvement and commitment. UWEB-21 is now seeking partners in our industrial consortium. Partnership is the key concept—all players reap rewards. The Puget Sound region has numerous medical device and diagnostics companies. The resources and expertise available at the University of Washington are widely acknowledged to be among the best in the world. UWEB-21 is set up to offer real value to companies partnering with this program. If you join UWEB-21, you will help support Washington as a world center for biomaterials and also open new resources for your company. For further information, write to me at: ratner@uweb.engr.washington.edu.

Dr. Buddy D. Ratner is the Director of University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials (UWEB) Engineering Research Center and the Michael L. and Myrna Darland Endowed Chair in Technology Commercialization. Follow @

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