A new biomedical engineering center, to be built with a $10 million gift from trustee A. James Clark, will allow The Johns Hopkins University's nationally prominent biomedical engineering program to expand its focus, strike out in new research directions and enhance its undergraduate teaching program.
Construction of the building, which Clark's gift will help underwrite, is the first step in the planned creation of the Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering Institute. The institute will foster collaboration among Hopkins faculty, both in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and in related departments, and between Hopkins and outside researchers.
At their Sunday meeting in New York, the university's board of trustees voted to name the new building Clark Hall. The 60,000-square-foot building, on the Homewood campus, will include 13 faculty laboratories. It will also house 10 labs for visiting scientists, four undergraduate teaching labs, classrooms and computer facilities.
Clark's lead commitment is expected to attract additional gifts to the institute which, the university hopes, will make possible the hiring of 10 new faculty in the university's Whiting School of Engineering. Half will be in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the others in departments with close connections to biomedical research in such fields as imaging, computer modeling and gene and drug delivery systems.
"Biomedical engineering is a critical field of research for our country and our world," said Clark, chairman and CEO of Clark Enterprises Inc., the Bethesda, Md., parent company for a variety of business interests. Among its subsidiaries is The Clark Construction Group Inc., the nation's largest privately held general building contractor.
Clark has had a long interest in engineering education and sits on the board of trustees at Johns Hopkins and on the University of Maryland Board of Visitors. In 1994, he made a $15 million gift to the engineering school at the University of Maryland, College Park, from which he graduated in 1950.
"I have spent most of my life in the construction side of engineering, and the success I have achieved is in this field," Clark said. "But, in today's world, contributions from all fields of engineering--biomedical, environmental, civil, mechanical, electrical and all the rest--are vitally important to the future of humanity. I think it's incumbent on all of us who have been successful to provide the financial resources to educate and train our future engineering leaders."
Though development of biomedical technology has been an important activity at Hopkins for decades--back at least to the invention of the defibrillator in the 1940s and 1950s--it has not been the primary focus of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
"We've always been primarily a basic science department, focused on using engineering concepts to learn about biological systems," said Murray Sachs, director of the department. "The creation of the institute puts us into a position where we can also focus on better applying what we've learned, on developing treatment devices and software and on working collaboratively with industry."
Sachs, whose department is part of both the School of Medicine and the Whiting School of Engineering, said that faculty hired to join the Whiting School and the new institute will be engineers interested both in solving basic science questions and in developing technology to apply their discoveries.
Sachs said the institute will concentrate on three emerging areas of research. One is developing computer models of everything from cells to whole organs, detailed enough to use for testing drugs, devices or treatment regimens before their use in humans.
"The greatest advances in biology over the past several decades have been in molecular biology," Sachs said. "People now recognize that it's time to 'put the molecules together' and understand how the whole system works.
"That's a complicated process and it's going to require very sophisticated computer models," Sachs said. "We want to be part of, and, in fact, a leader in, what's becoming known as the Human Physiome Project, an effort to extend the work of the Human Genome Project from genes to organs."
The second major emphasis, Sachs said, will be biomedical imaging, especially the development of computer programs to automatically and accurately analyze images from mammography or magnetic resonance scans. One goal, he said, might be to improve imaging to the point where doctors could conduct a complete heart examination without physically invading the body.
The third promising new field, Sachs said, is cell and tissue engineering, involving the invention of delivery systems for drug and genetic treatments and the development of engineered tissues and organs such as artificial skin.
Sachs said the addition of new faculty will allow for expansion and major revision of the undergraduate biomedical engineering curriculum, which, with 479 students majoring in it, is the university's largest undergraduate program. The program will also be enhanced by the construction of larger, more modern undergraduate teaching labs for such work as microfabrication, instrument design and tissue engineering, he said.
Clark, 70, has been a construction engineer, executive and entrepreneur for nearly 50 years, responsible for some of the Washington-Baltimore area's best-known projects, including Oriole Park at Camden Yards and, most recently, Washington's new MCI Center, the Redskins' Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Prince George's County and the international terminal at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The Clark Construction Group Inc. also has seven regional offices building projects from New England to the West Coast. Other Clark Enterprises subsidiaries oversee a variety of business interests, including real estate and communications.
A site for Clark Hall has been tentatively selected just to the west of Garland Hall, in an area currently used for parking. The architect is expected to be chosen in November. Construction should begin in August 1999 with completion expected by November 2000.