Two Whitaker Foundation Grants to Fund Genomic Technology and Biophotonics

February 1, 2002

The Whitaker Foundation has awarded two grants totaling nearly $2 million to the Pratt School of Engineering to accelerate promising research and teaching programs in genomic technology and biomolecular modeling, and in biophotonics, the merger of optical technologies with medicine.

Both "Special Opportunity Awards" went to the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Together, they will fund four new faculty members, support new Ph.D. fellowships, outfit two new laboratories and help develop new undergraduate and graduate courses in biophotonics and genomic technology.

"These awards build on the department's existing strengths in biomedical imaging and biomolecular research, the Pratt School's major initiative in photonics and the university's outstanding investment in genomesciences," said Morton Friedman, department chair.

The award in biophotonics, for $999,111 over three years, is designed to make the department a leader in the increasingly important field of biophotonics. The program, which will work closely with the school's new Fitzpatrick Center for Photonics and Communications Systems, is directed by Joseph Izatt, an associate professor of biomedical engineering who joined Duke last year. The program also will build and equip a state-of-the-art biophotonics teaching laboratory to be housed in the Fitzpatrick Center.

"By winning the award in biophotonics, the department can accelerate its educational and research thrust in this growing area, leveraging the unique resources of the Fitzpatrick Center to become a major player in applying photonic science and technology to problems ranging from basic life science research to clinical care," Friedman said.

The award in genomic technology and biomolecular modeling totals $979,849 and will be directed by William A. Reichert, professor of biomedical engineering and chemistry, and George A. Truskey, professor of biomedical engineering. In collaboration with Duke's Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, they will develop a graduate education program in genomic technology and biomolecular modeling, highlighted by the establishment of an educational laboratory for genomic technology. Biomolecular modeling is the mathematical characterization of the processes by which proteins and genes control the complex dynamics of cell and tissue function.

"Engineering has much to offer to genomic science and we can be a model for how these relationships can be translated into educational and research innovation," Friedman said.

The Whitaker Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to improving human health through the support of biomedical engineering. Since its inception in 1975, the foundation has awarded more than $760 million to colleges and universities for faculty research, graduate fellowships and program development. The foundation will disburse all of its assets in support of its mission and close in 2006.