A Message from President Berkey

Toward Good

Toward Good

Descartes wrote that health “is without doubt the first good and the foundation of all the other goods in this life.” And so, when I think about the biggest challenges afflicting our planet—and the subsequent opportunities that will arise—I turn immediately to health. Health is a concern for individuals in the narrow sense of freedom from disease or affliction; of course, the larger implications— physical, emotional, and social well-being—are critical for organizations, communities, and entire regions of the world.

It should come as no surprise that so many WPI alumni, faculty, and students are productively engaged in the pursuit of health solutions, approaching the issue from vastly different and important perspectives, as reported in part in the pages that follow. Finding solutions to some of the most critical issues of our day is, after all, at the core of the WPI ethos

 On campus, one natural focal point is WPI’s Life Sciences and Bioengineering Center (LSBC) at Gateway Park. Now three years old, this 128,000-square-foot facility is already filled to capacity with faculty and graduate student research in such important areas as regenerative medicine, including tissue engineering, wound healing, repair of damaged heart tissue, and regeneration of damaged organs and digits; sophisticated advances in prosthetic device technologies; innovative medical devices including implantable sensors and related wireless communications; and many other instances of the ways in which the power of engineering and science are now being applied to advances in medicine and health.

The LSBC also houses one of the Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives’ small business incubators, which is filled to capacity with start-up companies in the life sciences industry, several of which benefit from active collaboration with WPI faculty and students, both formally and informally. Also residing in the Center are two rapidly expanding pharmaceutical companies and the Institute’s Division of Corporate and Professional Education, which is providing extensive training programs to the commonwealth’s life sciences industry. Much of this activity will move into expansion space to be provided in the next building at Gateway Park, an 80,000-squarefoot facility that should be under construction by early 2011.

Beyond these more direct applications of science and technology, WPI faculty research addresses important related aspects of medicine and health. Several faculty in our new School of Business (formerly the Department of Management) are working to develop improved electronic medical record systems to provide more complete health data on individual patients. Even mathematical modeling is finding application in this domain. Professor Ki Chon, head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, has developed an algorithm for the improved detection of potentially deadly atrial fibrillation, and math professor Dalin Tang has developed a medical software diagnostic tool using computational methods for noninvasive early identification and diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.

Health-related topics are also prominently part of the continuing development of our undergraduate and graduate curricula, none more so than the popular Heal the World seminar, one of five new Great Problems Seminars developed to engage first year students in meaningful projects that address some of the greatest challenges of our time. Our undergraduate concentrations in biomedical engineering and in biology and biotechnology are among the most popular and rapidly growing, and the recently approved graduate programs in bioinformatics will become the newest among several joint graduate and research programs between WPI and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Bioinformatics is a powerful set of tools for the analysis of the voluminous amounts of health-related data now being produced. Like the fields of biostatistics and epidemiology, it is key to enabling evidence-based policy determinations important to the development of improved healthcare systems and practices.

More generally, WPI invests in programs and facilities to encourage well-being among our students, faculty, and staff. Our wellness programs and counseling services are important components of the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Life. Our new Sports and Recreation Center, for which we broke ground on May 14, will provide greatly expanded fitness and recreation facilities to encourage healthy lifestyles among members of the campus community. These will include a 14,000-square-foot fitness facility, a swimming pool, an indoor running track, racquetball and handball courts, and a four-court gymnasium. As important as this facility is to our varsity and club sports, it is every bit as important to the well-being of all members of our community.

Beyond the confines of the campus, our alumni are engaged in a wide range of endeavors to improve health and healthcare solutions: from the practice of medicine to the development of diagnostics and therapeutics, to the design and commercialization of medical devices, to the application of advanced sensing and communications technologies that enable remote diagnosis and monitoring of individuals both in medical facilities and in their homes.

Essential improvements in human health and healthcare systems will depend on innovative, thoughtful contributions to many of the related problems. It is a point of great pride for WPI to have so many of our alumni, faculty, staff, and students making such important progress on behalf of all of us, toward that first good.

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