WPI Receives $2 Million in Federal Funding For Two Biomedical Research Centers

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WORCESTER, Mass. -- Two groundbreaking research programs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will each receive $1 million in federal funding through a U.S. Senate Defense Appropriations Bill, setting the stage for the university to further its leadership in two key areas of biomedical research.

The allocations will go to two centers within the university's Bioengineering Institute (BEI): the Center for Untethered Healthcare, which is developing an integrated system of medical sensors, portable ultrasound scanners, and wireless technology to provide more effective medical care for soldiers in the field to improve their odds of surviving battlefield injuries; and the newly founded Center for Neuroprosthetics and BioMEMS, which is developing technology that will make it possible for prosthetic limbs and organs to be controlled by signals from the brain.

"These are critically important areas of investigation with far-reaching implications for national security and the quality of human life around the world," said WPI President Dennis D. Berkey. "With this new federal funding, WPI will have even greater opportunity to contribute leadership and new knowledge to such vital areas of bioengineering and biomedical research."

WPI's appropriation was part of a U.S. Senate Defense Appropriations Bill that included $12.3 million in spending to improve national security for the 3rd Congressional District represented by U.S. Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, and U.S. Congressman James P. McGovern. "We are most grateful that the work of our outstanding scholars and researchers has been recognized in this way," Berkey said.

BEI Center for Neuroprosthetics and BioMEMS

This new center is engaged in research aimed at developing technology that will place prosthetic limbs and organs under the control of the nervous system, enabling users to control these devices in the same way they control their natural limbs and organs. For military personnel who have lost limbs or organs, neuroprosthetics will offer more rapid recovery and rehabilitation.

The center draws upon WPI faculty expertise in the life sciences and biomedical, electrical, and mechanical engineering, including such areas as electronic control systems, communications, imaging, sensors, biocompatibility, and biomaterials, as well as the university's growing capabilities in bioMEMS (BioMicroElectroMechancial Systems), miniature devices that are critical components of prosthetics control systems. WPI recently established a state-of-the-art MEMS clean room.

This research is aligned with the needs and interests of the U.S. Army's Military Amputee Research Program (MARP) at the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) at Fort Detrick, Md., which has supported the Center for Untethered Healthcare over the past five years. WPI hopes to establish a similar technical relationship with MARP that will lead to the development of advanced neuroprosthetic systems, noted BEI director W. Grant McGimpsey.

BEI Center for Untethered Healthcare

Working with the U.S. military, this center is building upon more than a decade of work by WPI researchers. The center's goal is to develop technology that can provide critical information to military medical personnel where and when they need it to increase the odds of survival for wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Center researchers are developing four specific technologies:

  • Wireless, intelligent physiological sensors that can monitor vital signs of soldiers and alert medics and field commanders when problems arise.
  • Ad-hoc wireless networks that will permit sensor data and ultrasound images to be transmitted, securely and reliably in the unforgiving environment of the urban battleground.
  • A handheld microfluidic blood analyzer that can measure and analyze the levels of important blood constituents to help in the diagnosis of trauma, injury, or illness.
  • Wearable ultrasound technology that enables a medic or physician to bring the ultrasound scanner to the patient, rather than transporting the patient to a hospital or clinic to be scanned.

"We are actively marketing the ultrasound and blood analysis technology," McGimpsey said. "This new federal funding will allow us to continue to develop these technologies and the other important research of these two centers closer toward a commercial endpoint."