Texas A&M System to lead new NSF Engineering Research Center
A Texas A&M University System-led consortium of industry, government partners and universities has been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) on Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Underserved Populations (PATHS-UP), with the goal of addressing the grand challenge of overcoming the human and economic burden of diabetes and heart disease in underserved communities.
Institutional partners in PATHS-UP include Florida International University, Rice University and the University of California at Los Angeles, along with several companies and other federal agencies.
“The ERC is the most significant NSF research grant an institution can receive in engineering and is a tremendous endorsement of the quality research being conducted within the Texas A&M System’s engineering program,” said Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp. “This program is dedicated to helping underserved populations in rural and urban areas achieve greater access to health enhancing technologies and systems that aligns perfectly with our values as a land-grant institution.”
The prestigious NSF ERC is an interdisciplinary initiative that connects academia, industry and government partners to integrate engineering research and education with technological innovation to transform national prosperity, health and security.
“Texas A&M University is an incubator of ingenuity and leadership dedicated to addressing the grand challenges facing our nation and world,” said Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young. “Selection for the award by the National Science Foundation is a strong affirmation of our commitment to purpose-driven research to tackle the most pressing issues of our time and developing affordable access to life-saving technologies is among the most important.”
The ERC is initially funded by a five-year base award of $19.75 million (which can be renewed for another $15.56 million and a total potential term of 10 years, for a potential total of over $35 million). ERCs often become self-sustaining and typically leverage more than $50 million in federal and industry research funding during their first decade. The grant will be administered through the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES).
“For over 30 years, NSF Engineering Research Centers have promoted innovation, helped to maintain our competitive edge and added billions of dollars to the U.S. economy,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “They bring together talented innovators and entrepreneurs with resources from academia, industry and government to produce engineers and engineering systems that solve real-world problems. I am confident that these new ERCs will strengthen U.S. competitiveness for the next generation and continue our legacy of improving the quality of life for all Americans.”
NSF Program Director for PATHS-UP Deborah Jackson emphasized the important role the center could play in bringing down costs.
“The PATHS-UP ERC comprises a team of extraordinarily dedicated researchers who aim to develop cost-effective health care for underserved populations,” said Jackson. “If PATHS-UP’s chronic disease interventions are successful, they will have tackled a significant source of the skyrocketing national health care costs.”
PATHS-UP will be led by Director Dr. Gerard Coté, a Texas A&M professor of biomedical engineering, and will be housed in the Health Technologies Building, a newly renovated, state-of-the-art, 25,000-square foot building located in Texas A&M’s Research Park.
“Dr. Cote has a proven track record in developing innovation ecosystems driven by stakeholder input with a clear goal of commercialization of health-enhancing technologies,” said Dr. M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of Texas A&M Engineering. “This aligns closely with our new EnMed program in partnership with Houston Methodist, which prepares physician engineer graduates with the clinical skills to diagnose symptoms and treat patients, along with the engineering mindset to solve problems, invent new technologies and rapidly move these innovative ideas to practice in patient care.”
PATHS-UP has two overarching goals. The first is to engineer technologies that can overcome the barriers usually faced by point-of-care devices. The technologies developed need to be deployable, highly accurate, easy-to-use and affordable. The second goal is to recruit and educate a diverse group of scientists and engineers who will lead the future in developing enabling technologies to improve health in underserved communities.
“On average, every 30 seconds one person in the United States will be diagnosed with diabetes and another will suffer a coronary event like a heart attack. These diseases are even more devastating in rural and urban underserved communities where they occur at much higher rates than the national average,” said Coté. “I have been blessed with being able to lead an awesome team of technically excellent people who have a collective vision and a passion to change this paradigm for the health of the underserved populations by engaging them toward developing innovative, user-friendly, and cost-effective technologies and systems that can be used at the point-of-care in these communities.”
This initiative will also include broad societal outreach including participatory design and community engagement that will prevent PATHS-UP from perpetuating shortfalls in current biomedical practices in underserved communities, and will instead establish relationships to develop technologies that seamlessly integrate into people’s lives.
The program will focus on two transformative, engineered systems known as lab-in-your-palm and lab-on-a-wrist. Lab-in-your-palm allows for inexpensive remote diagnostic capabilities, while lab-on-a-wrist allows for near continual monitoring.
PATHS-UP will be the third active NSF ERC in the state of Texas. The Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Computing and Mobile Energy Technologies (NASCENT) ERC was established at The University of Texas at Austin in 2012, and the Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) Systems ERC was established at Rice University in 2015.
Click here for more on PATHS-UP.