Newswise — The annual awards ceremony at the National Academy of Engineering was highly unusual in that, of the 12 broad engineering categories represented at NAE – from chemical to mechanical and civil to electrical – three 2019 NAE awards were in biomedical engineering. According to NIBIB director, Dr. Bruce Tromberg, “This was important recognition of the transformational impact and growth of engineering in medicine and biology. Engineering is essential for understanding and improving human health.”

The October 6th event in Washington, D.C., honored the founding director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D., who received the Arthur M. Bueche Award for his contributions to technology research, policy, and national and international cooperation.  In addition, Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D., a University Professor at the University of Connecticut and former NIBIB grantee and national advisory council member, received the Simon Ramo Founders Award for his research contributions and leadership in engineering. The third NAE honoree was Wendy C. Newstetter, Ph.D., who received the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology. Dr. Newstetter received the award along with her colleagues from the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, Professors Joseph Le Doux, and Paul Benkeser.  Dr. Newstetter delivered the award ceremony’s keynote address describing the team’s creation of an innovative biomedical engineering training program to create future leaders in the field.

As director from 2002 to 2017, Dr. Pettigrew launched the NIBIB and established its role as the only NIH institute dedicated entirely to engineering and physical science in biology and medicine.  In its first two decades, NIBIB has supported breakthrough research such as helping people with paralysis regain function, development of technologies that allow rapid disease diagnosis at the point-of-care, and hand-held imaging devices that are portable and a fraction of the cost of previous technology—achievements made possible through the multi-disciplinary research approach that defines NIBIB.   

Pettigrew is currently the CEO for Engineering Health (EnHealth) and executive dean for Engineering Medicine (EnMed) at Texas A&M and Houston Methodist Hospital, where he leads the nation’s first comprehensive educational and research program to fully integrate engineering into all health-related disciplines. The program seeks to develop “physicianeers,” a new type of bioengineering and invention-minded physician, trained through a uniquely blended curriculum of medicine and engineering.

“We are grateful for the pioneering contributions of Drs. Pettigrew, Laurencin, and the Georgia Tech -Emory team,” noted Dr. Tromberg,  “they’ve played a critical role in the growth of the NIBIB and the entire bioengineering community.”