Fall 2013

Weldon School—Cyberonics Partnership, a Model Collaboration
When the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering partners with industry, plans are realized, ideas become manifest, and lives are changed. The following is a case study on the partnership between the Weldon School and Cyberonics, Inc., a medical device technology company. This fruitful collaboration leverages the strengths from both sides to advance research and technology, train and recruit students, and achieve life-changing clinical impact for patients and their families.

In the Beginning

Several years ago, Dan Moore, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cyberonics, read an article featuring the epilepsy research conducted by Pedro Irazoqui; Director of Purdue's Center for Implantable Devices, Associate Head for Research, Associate Professor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, and Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and his team at Purdue. Moore happened to be headed to Purdue and called to set up a meeting to learn more.

It didn’t take long for the pair to realize that they shared a vision and passion for research that is both clinically relevant and commercially viable. Moreover, they each had a unique set of resources that could be combined to achieve success.

“I wanted the opportunity to design and engineer devices that would see use in the hospital and that would affect patient lives,” said Irazoqui, who has been interested in translational work since his early career at a start-up company.

From Moore’s perspective, a partnership with the Weldon School was attractive because “it would give us the opportunity to fund early stage ideas to a more mature stage and potentially translate that technology to commercial medical devices manufactured by Cyberonics. Further, research collaborations would allow us to get a closer look at students who were conducting research in our areas of interest, potential employees who understood our technology and would be capable of having an immediate impact after graduation.”

A partnership was forged that has led to greater triumphs than either side had expected—or could have achieved without the other.

Research and Technology Transfer

That initial meeting launched three sponsored research agreements spanning five years (to-date) between Cyberonics and the Weldon School related to neuromodulation treatment and technology for epilepsy.  “We work on better ways to power implantable pulse generators as well as improving the artificial intelligence used in implantable pulse generators to make our neuromodulation treatments more efficacious,” said Milton Morris, Senior Vice President of Research and Development at Cyberonics.

In general, the research has been geared toward novel methods of predicting, detecting, and stopping seizures, including:

  • Advanced closed-loop algorithms to improve efficacy and optimize therapeutic stimulation
  • Novel surgical techniques to insert and implant electrodes and other wireless medical devices
  • Technology to wirelessly communicate and power implantable devices
  • Unique methods and biocompatible materials to hermetically seal and package implants

The technologies developed through this collaboration are targeted to improve and enhance the capabilities of Cyberonics’s neuromodulation products, which are FDA-approved for the treatment of refractory epilepsy and treatment-resistant depression. Utilizing Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) Therapy, Cyberonics’s marketed products have been shown to significantly reduce, and sometimes eliminate, the occurrence of seizures in the target population.  

For both parties, access to the cutting-edge technology and creativity was an enormous bonus of the collaboration. “Nobody else was doing this anywhere,” said Irazoqui. “Things that we developed didn’t previously exist.” These efforts are now in various stages of translation into medical products and into clinical reality.

Creating a Legacy

Meanwhile, several Weldon students who were involved in this research have since graduated and joined Cyberonics to continue the important mission of extending and improving the lives of people with epilepsy. “Clearly the greatest benefit of our partnership is attracting Purdue talent to Cyberonics,” said Moore. “Recruiting the best engineers allows us to receive benefits for years as the Purdue graduates make substantial contributions to developing products that truly change the lives of patients.  Some of the Purdue grads go above and beyond the standard contribution to the business by becoming true leaders in our organization.”

One of those students is Eric Chow (PhD 2009), a Senior Research Scientist Lead at Cyberonics. “Beyond the excellent technical knowledge I learned at the Purdue EE/BME programs and Professor Irazoqui’s Center for Implantable Devices, another item that really stuck with me was a heightened sense of purpose,” said Chow. “At the Weldon School, I felt that people were there to make a difference. I felt like I was a part of something big, and at the end of the day, I got to make a difference to people’s lives.

“One of the main things that attracted me to Cyberonics was the similar sense of purpose and desire to help people. The first day I stepped in the door for my interview at Cyberonics, I knew that people loved being there, they loved their jobs, and they loved working together as a team towards a unified goal of helping those in need. I was part of a similar environment during my time at the Weldon School, and now I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of that again as a member of the Cyberonics team.”

That legacy continues to grow as Cyberonics has since expanded its partnership with the Weldon School to include internships for undergraduates.

“At a minimum, we hoped to make meaningful progress in areas of scientific discovery that would impact clinical products,” said Moore. “Those expectations and more have been met and we hope to continue our collaboration with Purdue.”

Imagine the Possibilities

The enduring, productive, and growing partnership between the Weldon School and Cyberonics has become a model for industry, but it’s only one example of how a successful industry partnership can work. The Weldon School is actively engaging the corporate community to exchange ideas and technology know-how, and we seek to develop custom partnerships that align with the vision of each industry partner. For more information, contact Brian Knoy, Director of Development at the Weldon School at bjknoy@purdue.edu or (765) 494-6241.

Alyssa Panitch Appointed Leslie A. Geddes Professor in Biomedical Engineering
The Purdue Board of Trustees has approved Alyssa Panitch as the Leslie A. Geddes Professor in Biomedical Engineering.

Panitch came to Purdue in 2006 as an associate professor of biomedical engineering. She was named associate head of research for the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue in 2009. Prior to coming to Purdue, she was assistant professor and associate professor of bioengineering at Arizona State University.

Her research focuses on designing biological and synthetic materials for drug delivery and tissue engineering as well as developing peptide-based pharmaceuticals for restoring normal healing of vascular, neural and fibrotic diseases.

Panitch launched three successful startup companies and was the first faculty entrepreneur-in-residence at Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship from 2010-2012. She has received the NSF Career Award and has been a Purdue Faculty Scholar. She served on the biomaterials and biointerfaces study section for the National Institutes of Health from 2008-2012 and in 2011 was elected to the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineers College of Fellows. She has been on the editorial advisory board for Biomacromolecules since 2004 and on the editorial board of Biomatter since 2010.

She earned bachelor's degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and in biochemistry from Smith College. She completed her doctorate at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Weldon School Welcomes Three New Faculty Members
The Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering is pleased to announce the addition of three new faculty members: Shelley Claridge, Taeyoon Kim, and Zhongming Liu, all assistant professors of biomedical engineering.

The growth of BME faculty is in alignment with the College's strategic initiative, announced in fall 2012, to grow the College of Engineering over the next five years by as many as 107 new faculty—an increase of 30 percent.


Shelley Claridge

Shelley Claridge received her B.S. in mathematics, biochemistry and genetics at Texas A&M University in 1997, and her Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 2008.

Most recently, she was an NIH postdoctoral fellow and Merkin Family Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles. A central theme of her research is the development of integrated imaging strategies that advance the limits of single-molecule structural analysis on the 0.1–10 nm scale, addressing challenges ranging from understanding protein structure to optimizing nanoscale device performance. Her research incorporates three main thrusts. First, development of custom scanning probe instrumentation and sample preparation strategies enables imaging of samples not traditionally amenable to scanning probe characterization (including large proteins). Next, unconventional applications of bioanalytical techniques leverage recent advances in the synthesis of layered materials, such as graphene. Finally, integrated modeling and advanced imaging address issues in single-molecule structural analysis of complex molecules, including finding solutions to inverse imaging problems.


Taeyoon Kim

Taeyoon Kim received his B.S. in mechanical engineering at Seoul National University in 2004, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

Most recently he held a postdoctoral position at the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics at the University of Chicago, developing and using state-of-the-art computer simulations to compute macroscopic dynamics of actin networks from realistic nano-scale representations of their constituents. At Purdue, Kim is developing a research program to address central problems in biomechanics: the microscopic origins of acto-myosin contractility and cellular viscoelasticity and mechanotransduction. He is the principal investigator for the Molecular, Cellular, and Tissue (MCT) Biomechanics Laboratory, which studies diverse mechanical behaviors of biological matter, using cutting-edge computational models that span subcellular levels to the cell and tissue levels.


Zhongming Liu

Zhongming Liu received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from Zhejiang University in China in 2000 and 2003, respectively. He received his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities in 2008.

Before joining Purdue, he was a research fellow in Advanced MRI within the Laboratory of Functional and Molecular Imaging at the National Institutes of Health. His primary research interest is the development and application of innovative imaging methods (such as MRI, EEG, MEG and ECoG) to study brain function and anatomy. He has recently made significant progress in developing a novel fMRI-EEG integrated-imaging technique for mapping comprehensive neural networks in the human brain.


Weldon Researchers Receive CTSI Grants
This fall, researchers at the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering received more than $150,000 from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI), a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded organization that supports Indiana university-led research projects that aim to speed transformation of novel scientific discoveries into medical treatments and therapies.

Two Purdue researchers received grants through the Collaboration in Translational Research (CTR) grant program. CTR grants are designed to help scientists conduct early-stage research projects that may attract larger grant awards from external sources, such as the NIH. To foster collaboration, the program required that each grant proposal include participation from scientists from two or more sponsoring academic campuses: Purdue, Indiana University-Bloomington, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the Indiana School of Medicine and the University of Notre Dame. The recipients and their projects are:

Ji-Xin Cheng, of the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, and Shaoxiong Chen, of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, IU School of Medicine, will receive $74,000 to support their project titled, "Prevention of Pancreatic Cancer Metastasis by Abrogating Cholesterol Metabolism." Additional project collaborators include Jingwu Xie, of the IU School of Medicine.

Bumsoo Han, School of Mechanical Engineering and Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, and Kinam Park, also of the Weldon School, and Jian-Ting Zhang, of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, IU School of Medicine, will receive $75,000 to support their project titled, "Rapid screening of drugs for multidrug resistant cancers using a new tumor-microenvironment-on-chip platform."

Craig Goergen, Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, will receive $10,000 through the core pilot grant program. Core pilot grants provide investigators access to more than 60 Indiana CTSI-approved core facilities across the IU, Purdue, and Notre Dame campuses. Goergen is granted access to the Transgenic Mouse Core at Purdue in support of his project titled, "Creation of apolipoprotein E-deficient rats for the study of cardiovascular disease."

The Indiana CTSI is a statewide collaboration of IU, Purdue and Notre Dame, as well as public and private partnerships that facilitate the translation of scientific discoveries in the lab into clinical trials and new patient treatments in Indiana and beyond. 

It was established in 2008 with a $25 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Research Resources of the NIH, and with nearly $60 million from the state, the three member universities, and public and private donors. The Indiana CTSI is a member of a national network of 55 CTSA-funded organizations across the United States. 


Medical Scientist Training Program Funding Renewed and Increased
The Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), a joint venture between the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering to train prospective physician-scientists and physician-engineers (MD/PhD), received a 5-year renewal with an increase in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“We were extremely delighted to be notified of the increase in support from the NIH,” said Raghu G. Mirmira, MD, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine, Cellular and Integrative Physiology, and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the School of Medicine and Director of the Medical Scientist Training Program. “Many programs across the country did not get increases this year. This clearly reflects the strength of our program and its potential for growth in the years to come.”

A goal of the joint MSTP is to provide this highest-level training opportunity to students in a wide-range of cutting-edge biomedical research areas in an academic program that integrates state-of-the-art clinical medical training with research. The current range of doctoral programs offered span from traditional programs of anatomy and cell biology to next generation programs in medical biophysics and medical neurobiology for life scientists to our diverse areas for biomedical engineers: neuroengineering, engineered biomaterials and tissue systems, biophotonics and medical imaging, orthopedic biomechanics, and systems science engineering.

Highlights of the program include:

  • A nationally-ranked Healthcare System partnered with a nationally-ranked College of Engineering.
  • Exceptionally strong clinical and research mentorship program.
  • Over 100 training faculty in 11 specialty areas including biomedical engineering.
  • Integrated clinical practice and translational research opportunities.
  • An incredible breadth of research expertise and high-tech facilities.
  • Unique medical school curriculum.
  • A highly diverse population of trainees.
  • Funded graduate fellowships from the Clinical Translational Science Institute.
  • Program graduates obtain highly competitive post-doctoral fellowships and residencies.

"We're delighted with the recognition from the NIH of the quality and success of our joint program," said George Wodicka, Head of the Weldon School. "The cooperative Indiana University medicine and Purdue biomedical engineering educational component provides unique opportunities for the training of physician engineers."

For more information, view the MSTP webpages at either the IU School of Medicine or the Weldon School.

NIH T-32 Institutional Training Grant Funded for Diabetes Research
An elite program for the bioengineer-diabetologist in-training, co-directed by the Weldon School and Indiana University School of Medicine has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus is on the rise to the extent that diabetes rapid and widespread nature has been referred to as pandemic in the United States; type 1 diabetes is also increasing at an unexpected rate. There is an urgent need for innovative therapeutics and technologies to deal with this situation, and a need to train a cadre of future scientists who can engineer devices and therapeutics with in-depth knowledge and training to link their research to clinical care to address the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

The Indiana Bioengineering Interdisciplinary Training for Diabetes Research Program provides interdisciplinary, integrated research training to develop predoctoral students into bioengineers capable of leading integrative and team-based approaches to solve issues relevant to the understanding, prevention, and treatment of diabetes and diabetic complications.

Highlights of the program include:

  • Co-mentoring of students from a select group of exemplary bioengineering and diabetes-based research faculties.
  • Carefully designed flexible curriculum that provides in-depth training for students in engineering relevant to diabetes.
  • Coursework that broadens research training at the bench with quantitative skills, provides opportunities for public speaking, provides a range of enriching extracurricular opportunities, and allows for integration of medicine and science/engineering.
  • Training in an environment and culture that provides strong interdisciplinary support for bioengineering and diabetes research.

For more information, view the Interdisciplinary Training for Diabetes Research webpage.

Team Led by Pedro Irazoqui Slated for Strategic Growth
Purdue's College of Engineering has named Pedro Irazoqui's group one of four research teams that will be a priority for faculty hiring during the coming year. Irazoqui is Director of Purdue's Center for Implantable Devices, Associate Head for Research, Associate Professor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, and Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The teams were chosen because the work they do has the potential for dramatic impact and international pre-eminence. They are part of the college's strategic growth plan that will add as many as 107 faculty over five years.

In addition to the team hiring, other hires are related to strengthening disciplines and taking advantage of opportunities to enhance quality or diversity.

The strategic growth plan is part of Purdue Moves, a range of initiatives designed to broaden Purdue's global impact and enhance educational opportunities for its students.

"The pre-eminent teams are a research-centric approach to faculty hiring," said Leah Jamieson, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. "We asked the candidates to tell us how they would form a team to catapult their research to the level of international prominence. That was the starting point for choosing the first-year teams."

The teams already are part of the college. To become pre-eminent teams, they went through a process similar to a pitch entrepreneurs would give to venture capitalists. In the first round, 32 team leaders competed before a panel of distinguished engineering faculty. In the second round, 12 team leaders made their pitches to a panel, with half of its members coming from outside the university. From the university, panelists were from both inside and outside of the College of Engineering.

"The successful teams showed agility, creativity, a willingness to take risks and an ability to move outside their comfort zones," Jamieson said.

Irazoqui's team will pursue research to develop implantable networks of wireless nanoelectronic devices to enable medical treatment through sensors and actuators. Wireless implantable devices are being developed for various potential applications including monitoring and suppression of epileptic seizures; prosthesis control for injured military personnel; modulation of cardiac arrhythmias; treatment of depression and gastroparesis, a partial paralysis of the stomach; and monitoring of intraocular pressure and therapeutic intervention for glaucoma. The research calls for a partnership among the Center for Implantable Devices with the National Science Foundation NEEDS (Nano-Engineered Electronic Device Simulation) initiative led by Mark Lundstrom, the Don and Carol Scifres Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; the Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine neurosurgical practice; and the Indiana University School of Medicine. "The key enabling technologies come from nanotechnology," Irazoqui said. "Access to them comes from our partnership with NEEDS, and the clinical impact, which is the overarching goal, happens as a result of our partnership with the hospitals in Indianapolis."

Join us as we advance both higher education and the medical device and biotechnology fields. If you are interested in learning more about the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, please contact Brian Knoy at bjknoy@purdue.edu. We would like to learn about you, answer your questions, and schedule a visit.

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