N.C. A&T awarded $4 million for Engineering Research Center

The National Science Foundation has awarded $4 million to the Engineering Research Center for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials at N.C. A&T State University for FY 2012.
By: N.C. A&T State University
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Aug. 19, 2011 - PRLog -- The development of revolutionary medical implant technology will continue with full funding this year at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University.

The National Science Foundation has informed the university that it will renew funding for the Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials for the 2012 fiscal year at $4 million, the full amount requested.  The 2012 funding will bring the NSF’s support of the ERC to more than $15 million since fiscal 2009.

The ERC’s mission is to produce revolutionary metallic materials and implantable medical devices for reconstruction and regeneration of bones and other body parts.  It is developing screws, plates, wires and other devices made of biocompatible, biodegradable magnesium alloys.  Such devices could be used in orthopedic, cranio-facial and cardiovascular applications.  When they have served their purpose, they could be signaled to degrade and pass out of the body at a controlled rate, alleviating the need for additional surgery to remove them.

“The NSF conducted its third-year annual review in April and gave us a very positive report,” said Dr. Jagannathan Sankar, executive director of the ERC.  “The full funding of our fiscal 2012 request reflects both the progress we’ve made and the NSF’s confidence in our team.” Sankar is a Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at N.C. A&T.  

A&T is the lead institution on the ERC team.  Research partners include the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Cincinnati and Hannover Medical School in Germany.  The A&T team received its ERC award in 2008.  The ERC staff at the university includes 16 faculty members, research scientists and post-doctoral researchers; 31 graduate and undergraduate students; and seven staff members.

The A&T team’s research in the first three years has resulted in the development of biocompatible magnesium alloys and the production of prototype devices.  Testing has begun on the prototypes; that process will identify the most promising devices and applications, which will be the first to undergo clinical trials in humans.  Such trials are still some years away, Sankar said.

“Bringing new medical devices to market typically takes 10 years or longer,” he said.  “When you’re taking a revolutionary approach like ours, the timeframe is not likely to be shorter than average.  But we’re three years into it now, and we’ve made significant progress.”

The long-running Engineering Research Center program is the crown jewel of NSF engineering initiatives.  The NSF’s “third generation” ERC program, which includes the A&T project, has dual objectives of global scientific leadership and economic impact.

The foundation makes ERC awards on a five-year renewable basis with the possibility of up to five additional years.  Full funding for Year Four typically leads to funding through at least Year Eight.  

The ERC team is assisted by two advisory boards.  The Industry Advisory Board includes the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology, major medical technology firms like Johnson & Johnson and Covidien, and small-business “innovation partners.” The Clinical Scientific Advisory Board includes medical and biomedical clinicians from medical centers and universities around the nation, including the University of Illinois, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University.

For more on research at North Carolina A&T, visit the Aggie Research blog, http://aggieresearch.wordpress.com/ or website, http://research.ncat.edu.  Aggie Research also can be found on Twitter (@aggieresearch) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/AggieResearch).

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N.C. A&T’s traditional strengths in engineering, agriculture and the sciences are generating new research initiatives in national defense/homeland security, biomedical science and engineering, energy, social and behavioral sciences, and other areas.
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