UCI's Dr. Steven George, founding director of the Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology, says the most gratifying aspect of biomedical engineering is that its real-life applications can help people live longer, healthier lives. Steve Zylius / University Communications

New research center tackles matters of the heart

A new biomedical engineering research center looks to advance technology for treating cardiovascular disease.

Engineering Hall is the latest jewel in UC Irvine’s cluster of world-class research facilities – a striking 123,000-square-foot, five-floor structure with state-of-the-art laboratories, a 350-seat auditorium, and headquarters for the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science.

The building — which will be officially dedicated Oct. 29 – is also home to a new cardiovascular research and training center created with a $5 million endowment from one of Orange County’s largest medical products companies, Edwards Lifesciences Corp.

Dr. Steven George, recently named founding director of the Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology, is still moving in but believes he already has the parts in place to build one of the country’s elite programs in this rapidly growing field.

George knows something about building from the ground up. As chair, he oversaw the 2002 creation of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and steered its evolution into one of UCI’s most popular degree programs, with more than 500 undergraduate and nearly 100 graduate students. Its master’s and doctorate programs are currently ranked among the nation’s top 30 by U.S. News & World Report.

“The allure of biomedical engineering stems from the widespread interest we have in healthcare,” George says. “It captures the imagination of those with analytic and technical skills because there are real applications that can help people live longer, healthier lives.”

The Edwards Lifesciences gift allows George to assemble a team capable of taking discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic. So far, this interdisciplinary group includes:

  • Biomedical engineering professor Zhongping Chen, who is developing minimally invasive optical probes to look inside veins, arteries and the heart.
  • Biomedical engineering assistant professor Elliot Botvinick, who is studying the biological mechanics of the cardiovascular system for utilization in tissue engineering, wound healing and heart-valve materials.
  • UCI cardiologists Dr. Jagat Narula and Dr. Morton Kern, who are establishing a medical-surgical laboratory for testing promising cardiovascular products. Narula also serves as the center’s medical director.

George is incorporating his tissue remodeling laboratory into the center; he and colleagues have been creating synthetic tissue for potential use in repairing damaged lungs and hearts. Further research efforts will be included as the center grows, George says.

“It’s the right place and right time for a center like this,” he says. “It’s a perfect fit for our school and for the burgeoning life sciences industry in Southern California.”

Because of this, George expects the center to attract some of the country’s most talented graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. In fact, $2 million of the Edwards Lifesciences endowment will be directed toward recruiting and supporting these researchers — many of whom, George believes, will remain in the area and contribute to Orange County’s strong medical devices market.

“The Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology will foster a dynamic training and research environment in which lab discoveries can be spun off to the private sector, where they can have a real impact on human healthcare,” George says. “It’s exciting to be part of this new endeavor.”

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