Tag: Abilene Life Science Foundation
This Friday, the faculty of the Biomedical Science Program will meet for a retreat to discuss our first year of operation and plan for the year ahead. Attending will be Tom Benoit, Heidi DiFrancesca, and Gary Wilson from Biology, Paul Pyenta from Chemistry & Biochemistry, and Alicia Wyatt from Computer Science. Larry Sharp is on vacation and will miss the meeting.
In reviewing the first year of operation, many milestones suggest a rich and profitable future for the program. The first year saw over 20 students declare a BIMS major, mostly incoming freshmen interested in health professions or biotech. The new courses were very well populated. Growing publicity from the city fathers, The Development Corporation of Abilene, the TTU School of Pharmacy, and local biotech firm Receptor Logic helped to strengthen our position as the premiere life science/biotech training program in Abilene. Heidi DiFrancesca and Hyunshun Shin from Chemistry & Biochemistry have begun collaborating on a project to develop and test new treatments for breast cancer. And McMurry has seen the value in promoting these endeavors through funding for equipment and supplies to support the research-in-teaching approach used in BIMS.
I’m sure some time will be spent discussing the parallel development of the biotech infrastructure in Abilene, with a variety of support facilities (including the Abilene Life Sciences Foundation Research Accelerator facility) coming on line. Add to this the decision by Abilene Independent School District to start a new engineering/computer science high school this fall and you have converging efforts that point to a bright future. One of the tracks possible at the new high school is biotech engineering, which Dr. Jon Weidanz from TTUHSC-School of Pharmacy and I are promoting.
So what does the future hold? That is the reason for our retreat! I expect that we’ll see growing commitments to link our courses together and use our BIMS lab courses to conduct research. We’ll see BIMS-focused proposals for the lab renovation competition being held on campus later this month. We’ll see plans for research grants and programs to help high school science teachers learn and implement new methods, techniques, and equipment into their courses. We’ll see more articulation agreements with professional schools for pharmacy, physical therapy, and who knows what else! Clearly, BIMS is on the move and possesses the creative firepower to transform the sciences at McMurry. Thoughtful planning and staged implementation are keys to making that happen.
Check back in a few weeks as I give an update on the event!
This past week several BIMS faculty met with other area scientists and representatives from local biotech firm Receptor Logic to discuss research collaboration and opportunities for our students.
Receptor Logic is a company led by Dr. Jon Weidanz, whose “day job” is as a professor at the TTU School of Pharmacy here in Abilene. Their work involves development and production of specific antibodies called T-cell receptor mimics (TCRm) of value immunologically. They have promise therapeutically and also open the possibility for diagnostic and environmental sensing applications. If all goes according to plan, Abilene will become a major player in the fight against contagious diseases, advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment, and development of biosensors to monitor environmental quality. McMurry plans on being the major supplier of quality employees.
The emerging biotech presence in Abilene is supported by the Abilene Life Science Foundation and the Development Corporation of Abilene. Under construction is the biotech research accelerator facility – a research center expected to house up to six biotech companies and support their research and development efforts. The community has rallied around the effort by providing tax incentives. McMurry responded with creation of the BIMS degree and is moving toward articulation with a biotech certificate program being developed by a local junior college.
The subject of this meeting was how our faculty might join in the work underway at Receptor Logic, a collaboration that would enable McMurry faculty to contribute to cutting edge research and that would add some capable minds and hands to the resources available to Receptor Logic. Most exciting to us were the opportunities discussed for our students – internships, advanced courses involving commercial biotech research, job opportunities upon graduation. The degree of cooperation between groups represented is unprecedented. We have heard in the past that a BIMS graduate would have the skills desired for biotech or forensic science jobs, jobs that oftentimes have starting salaries in excess of $50,000.
We believe it would be irresponsible of us to see a quality biotech education as beginning and ending with McMurry faculty when so many resources are available in town – a quality faculty at the TTU Pharmacy School, invitations from biotech companies engaged in research & development, a supportive community that invests in biotech resources to support schools and industry. It would also be irresponsible for us to have resources on our campus that are not contributed to the effort. Joining together to become more than the sum of our parts is what will make Abilene’s emerging biotech presence flourish. McMurry is committed to giving our very best effort for the sake of our students, our faculty, our community, and our local biotech industry. Stay tuned for the excitement to come!