A new five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will help the Georgia Institute of Technology train the next generation of leaders in ImmunoEngineering – a new wave of researchers applying the tools and principles of engineering to study the immune system in health and disease in the quest for breakthrough solutions to improve the lives of patients.
The NIH T32 grant, entitled “Research Training Program in ImmunoEngineering,” starts this month and will support five biomedical engineering and bioengineering doctoral students this academic year, and new cohorts of students in subsequent years.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for this program,” says Julia Babensee, director of the training program, associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering and a researcher in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.
And it may be the first of its kind.
“NIH didn’t have a training grant program in this space before,” says Babensee, who applied for the grant and is managing the program. “It’s the first ImmunoEngineering training grant that we know of. NIH recognizes that this is an important, emerging discipline.”
The five trainees selected for 2017-2018 are Nicholas Beskid (from Babensee’s lab), David Francis (from the lab of Susan Thomas), Midori Maeda (from the lab of Shuichi Takayama), Katily Ramirez (from the lab of Todd Sulcheck), Cory Sago (from the lab of James Dahlman). Another trainee, Jeff Noble (from the lab of M.G. Finn) deferred to 2018-2019.
The program’s co-directors, Susan Thomas (Petit Institute researcher, assistant professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech) and Rafi Ahmed (director of the Emory Vaccine Center) will leverage the $191,090 award to prepare engineering students for advanced careers in immunoengineering.
Competition for the inaugural slots was stiff, according to Babensee, who is on the executive committee of the Center for ImmunoEngineering at Georgia Tech. That research center, based in the Petit Institute, brings together multi-disciplinary researchers, engineers and scientists, to develop solutions for patients battling cancer, infectious diseases (HIV, hepatitis, etc.), autoimmune and inflammatory disorders (diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, etc.), as well as those undergoing regenerative therapies (organ transplantation, spinal cord injury, etc.).
“These trainees will have the ability to tackle those complex problems, having both an engineering approach and a deep understanding of immunology,” Babensee says. “Our intention is to train people who will be able to take on leadership positions in either academia or industry. This is a prestigious designation from NIH – it says a lot about Georgia Tech and Emory, about our faculty and students.”
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