CLEMSON — A Clemson University department that helped pioneer the use of engineering principles to understand and treat disease is celebrating 50 years of awarding graduate degrees while helping prime the Upstate for what could be a boom in the medical-technology industry.
The university’s bioengineering department has played a central role in the foundation of a leading professional society and now has more than 450 students and a presence in Greenville and Charleston. The department, originally called interdisciplinary studies, granted its first Ph.D. degree in 1963.
An anniversary gala at the Madren Conference Center at 6 p.m. Feb. 8, is themed “What’s Next?” Some of those answers could come out of the Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Innovation Campus (CUBEInC).
CUBEInC is a nearly 30,000-square-foot economic engine that opened just more than two years ago at Greenville Health System’s Patewood Medical Campus.
While CUBEInC isn’t the Upstate’s only medical-technology asset, it is playing a key role in the industry’s growth by bringing together scientists, physicians, students and businesses to find new ways of diagnosing and treating illness.
Some of the campus’ research focuses on making less-toxic chemotherapy, preventing breast cancer relapses, figuring out why some implants fail and developing orthotic insoles for diabetic patients with foot ulcers.
Michael Gara, the technology management director for CUBEInC, sees huge opportunity in the medical-technology industry because of the state’s tax incentives, Greenville’s business-friendly environment and Clemson’s half-century of bioengineering experience.
The jobs that would come with an expansion of the medical-technology industry start at about $60,000 to $80,000 a year, Gara said.
“We just need a couple successes to put us on the map,” Gara said. “Much like a BMW came in and anchored the auto industry, we need that sort of thing for the medical technology industry.”
Clemson’s bioengineering department remains headquartered at Rhodes Engineering Research Center on Clemson’s main campus. The department added a Master of Science program in 1966 and a Bachelor of Science in 2006.
“For 50 years, our graduates have led biomedical research and technological enterprise,” said bioengineering chairwoman Martine LaBerge. “Our platform for educating these leaders has been a culture focused on discovery and innovation.”
The bioengineering department now has 24 primary faculty members who are tenured or on track for tenure; 12 joint and research faculty members; and 12 technical and administrative staff members.
The Society for Biomaterials began at Clemson in 1974, and it remains the premier bioengineering professional society. The society has three annual awards named for Clemson, reflecting three decades of strong ties with the university.
Alumni, friends, supporters and colleagues have been invited to the anniversary gala.
“Reflecting on the past, we will begin to create the future of our department and our field,” LaBerge said.
CUBEInC shares a building with Steadman Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, GHS Institute for Vascular Health and Orthopaedic Research Foundation of the Carolinas. Incubator space has been set aside for startups with big potential.
Gara said he is working on public and private grants for a variety of research at CUBEInC and that he hopes by year’s end the campus will be “busting at the seams” with plans on the drawing board for an expansion.
“The stage is set,” he said.
The bioengineering department has also been in Charleston since a 2003 agreement between Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina established the CU-MUSC Bioengineering Program.
Clemson faculty and research personnel maintain full-time laboratories and office space on the MUSC campus.
Clemson University’s bioengineering department is also the curator of The C. William Hall Biomaterials Documentation Center, an international database of archived documents in biomaterials.
It was established in 1998 and holds books, manuscripts, patent information, video and audio tapes, 35-millimeter slides, lecture notes, artifacts, artwork and memorabilia. The center is housed at the Rhodes Engineering Research Center.