University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials (UWEB) Transitions Into the 21st Century


In 1996, I received a $40M+, 11-year grant from the National Science Foundation to launch University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials (UWEB). UWEB focused on the biomaterials used to make medical devices and medical diagnostics. Medical devices and diagnostics are estimated to be a $150B+ endeavor. Though devices manufactured by the medical industry save lives and improve the quality of life for millions, there are significant issues that impede device performance and increase costs to the healthcare system and the patient. These issues include blood clotting, infection, poor healing, fouling, mineralization, degradation, and scarring. UWEB approached these compelling problems though collaborative, interdisciplinary teams that included engineers, materials scientists, chemists, biologists, physicians, and dentists.

The research program addressed issues confronting biomaterials and medical devices with an eye toward the needs of patients and the industry. In 11 years, UWEB revolutionized implant healing, developed new strategies to address calcification, evolved fouling-resistant surfaces, proposed new blood compatible surfaces, invented approaches to reduce infection on biomaterials, and invented drug delivery strategies. Also, UWEB expanded its scope to include tissue engineering (heart, esophagus, bladder, cornea, bone, cartilage, etc.). UWEB innovations led to at least 6 spin-off companies, including Asemblon and Healionics. Finally, a generation of students was trained in understanding modern biomaterials and also how industry works. These students now fill numerous positions in major companies, research labs, hospitals, and universities.

It’s time to take the next step and get industry more directly involved. UWEB-21 will take UWEB and expand it to the next level—a program to address needs for 21st-century biomaterials. My proposal is that UWEB laboratories and scientists will partner with UWEB-21 consortium companies to provide analytical services, to collaborate on research and device development, to pursue funding opportunities, to review IP licensing opportunities, and to assist with recruitment and training.

So I’m looking to the community for involvement and commitment. UWEB-21 is now seeking partners in our industrial consortium. Partnership is the key concept—all players reap rewards. The Puget Sound region has numerous medical device and diagnostics companies. The resources and expertise available at the University of Washington are widely acknowledged to be among the best in the world. UWEB-21 is set up to offer real value to companies partnering with this program. If you join UWEB-21, you will help support Washington as a world center for biomaterials and also open new resources for your company. For further information, write to me at: [email protected]

Dr. Buddy D. Ratner is the Director of University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials (UWEB) Engineering Research Center and the Michael L. and Myrna Darland Endowed Chair in Technology Commercialization. Follow @

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One response to “University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials (UWEB) Transitions Into the 21st Century”

  1. A truly revolutionary advancement in bioengineering will not take place until we use the full power of modern and old mathematics to apply towards engineering. By “old”, I refer to the 19th century drive by mathematicians to explictly solve nonlinear differential equations. Many of us have not give up on that dream.
    I earned a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering with a minor in Russian from the University of Delaware in 1986. My interest in Russian made me stay connected to research in the Soviet Union at that time. As I neared the completion of my BChE, I realized that the only way to make the quantum leap necessary in the advancement of science and engineering was to pursue higher mathematics. A PhD would be the way to discipline myself for that task. So, I enrolled in graduate school at Rutgers University in 1988 and graduated with a MS in Math in 1991 and a PhD in Math in 2000. However, aside from the short-term math-teaching gigs I had, there are absolutely no jobs, in spite of there being so much work to be done in this world. That will not change unless we force government and employers to hire everyone.

    I returned to school at a local community college in NJ where I had taken classes back in 1981-1982. I am now working towards an Associate of Science in Biotechnology. Sad to say, everything I have ever said about math and science and engineering is still true. 20 years after my BChE, there have been no fundamental achievements. Certainly, there are lots of new facts and discoveries and such, the Human Genome Project, etc.

    But, none of these projects gets to the heart of the matter of WHERE consciousness resides in organisms, including microorganisms. Nanotechnology means some CONSCIOUSNESS (i.e. us) moves atoms to where it/we want them to be. We will almost certainly need to make use of laws of physics – who knows? – weak and strong forces? – leptons besides electrons – I don’t know yet – aside from electromagnetic forces of chemistry, in order to tackle bionanotechnology and ultimately regenerating tissues, organs, and life itself.

    However, none of these advances will take place in the United States. Hence, I had to spend a year and a half 2006-2007 learning nothing but French in order to move out of the US. These advances will take place only when someone qualified, such as Ralph Nader, is elected president, massive corporate welfare is ended, and companies are forced by law to hire all qualified people to share a job and without any regard to how old they are. Only the minority of us who support these transformations are truly serious about advancing the practical applied benefits of science and engineering to everybody who deserves them.