On the heels of the development of a history-making novel coronavirus vaccine, University of Pennsylvania is investing $100 million into a new center of precision engineering for health-related research.
Penn’s Center for Precision Engineering for Health inside the School of Engineering and Applied Science will be formed over the next several years, the university announced this week. The Center is focusing on precision-engineered biomaterials, Penn Engineering Dean Vijay Kumar told Technical.ly in an email, because they are “key” to vaccines, pharmaceuticals and antibiotics, particularly for personalized medicines.
“Engineering solutions to problems within human health is one of the grand challenges of the discipline,” Kumar said. “Our faculty are already leading the charge against these challenges, and the Center will take them to new heights.”
This field of study has produced innovations used in recent medical breakthroughs. That includes nanoparticle technologies that improve storage and distribution of vaccines, like the mRNA vaccines recently developed for COVID-19. It also includes the development of protocells — synthetic cells that can be engineered to do many different things, like adhering to surfaces or releasing drugs, Penn said. The research is even responsible for recent vesicle-based liquid biopsies for diagnosing cancer.
“Biomaterials represent the ‘stealth technology’ which will create breakthroughs in improving health care and saving lives,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said in a statement. “Innovation that combines precision engineering and design with a fundamental understanding of cell behavior has the potential to have an extraordinary impact in medicine and on society.”
Penn Engineering will be hiring five new professors and five new junior faculty for the Center, and leadership will be announced in coming weeks. The Center will also have seed grants available for early-stage projects that will advance work in engineering and medicine. Funding will be used to recruit top faculty, build state-of-the-art laboratories, and to support graduate and undergraduate students who work in these labs, Kumar said.