Georgia Tech's Training Program for Rationally Designed, Integrative Biomaterials Gets Bigger
National Institutes of Health renew training grant, adds slots for more students.
The Georgia Tech Training Program for Rationally Designed, Integrative Biomaterials, or GTBioMAT, just got a substantial vote of confidence from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
GTBioMAT, designed to train pre-doctoral students in the development of the next generation of integrative biomaterials, was launched five years ago with a grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.
“The good news is, the grant has been renewed for another five years, but what’s really exciting is, we got an increased number of slots, which I think shows that the NIH is excited about what we’re doing,” says Johnna Temenoff, associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, and one of GTBioMAT’s co-directors.
The grant, which previously covered four trainee slots will now support six (the next group of trainees will be announced later this summer). GTBioMAT is a two-year program, with a new group of trainees selected each year.
“They get hands-on experience that they can use in their own research or in their careers,” says GTBioMAT co-director Julia Babensee, associate professor in the Coulter Department. “Part of the rationale for this grant is that we, as biomaterial scientists, need to develop new biomaterials that will function in smarter ways and interact in the body in better ways, and we need to address those issues through training students who will be able to make their own materials and become competent in that.”
The continuing support of the GTBioMAT program by the NIH is also an acknowledgement of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s stature in the field, according to Babensee.
“We’ve got the strongest biomaterials faculty in the U.S., if not the world, right here,” she says. “Many of the faculty have won Society for Biomaterials awards. We’re recognized as thought leaders, and one of our aims is to train future leaders for the biomaterials community. I think this training grant is a recognition of that.”
The Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience is currently home to four different training grant programs. But this one is unique because, Temenoff says, “it requires students to do at least two semester-long lab rotations before they pick their advisor.”
It’s all about exposure, giving trainees a glimpse into different worlds within the biomaterials universe. One lab rotation focuses on biomaterials synthesis, the other on applications.
“Some of these students will go into industry, some into academia,” Babensee says. “The lab rotations give them a chance to have broader contact with the research going on here, and to make better, more informed decisions about what direction they’ll ultimately go in.”
The program is only five years old, and it typically takes someone four or five years to get a Ph.D. So there is no clear sense yet of what direction GTBioMAT trainees are going in. Check back in another five years or so, suggests Babensee, who is helping to plan another potential route for Georgia Tech’s scientists in training, which could lead to broader opportunities for moving therapeutic concepts toward commercialization.
“We’ve been talking about an immunoengineering training grant,” she says. “This is another area, like biomaterials, that has sort of grown from the grassroots here at Georgia Tech. We’re uniquely positioned. A lot of biomaterials work is in the immunoengineering area, so there’s going to be crossover, which means translational strength.”