Biomedical Engineering and The Breakthroughs To Come
“Success is never one person’s alone. It’s always a group of people. They need to have a can-do attitude, be able to take risks, be problem-solvers. You need to have a diversity of opinions at the table to go the right direction. You empower them, resource them, and then you get out of the way and let them do it.”
Companies, not universities, take products to patients.
This powerful statement, with clear intention and predication of innovation, came in an interview with Dr. C. Mauli Agrawal, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at The University of Texas at San Antonio. He also holds the Peter Flawn Professorship in Biomedical Engineering.
Dr. Agrawal was born and raised in India. “I finished engineering in India, worked for industry for a little bit, and then came to the U.S. for graduate work.” He landed at Clemson University in South Carolina and received a master’s degree in engineering, then he went to Duke for his Ph.D. He moved to San Antonio in 1991 with his wife; his son and daughter were born here.
The UT Health Science Center planned to start a new program in plant materials and biomedical engineering, hence they hired Dr. Agrawal. After eight years as dean for engineering and three years as Vice President for Research for all of UTSA, Dr. Agrawal assumed his current role a year ago.
Our interview drifted toward the topic of medical problems in the area of orthopedics and cardiovascular implants. Dr. Agrawal said last year he was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors in Washington, DC. He explained, “If we do research and come up with solutions to problems, it’s of no use until it reaches the patient. I tell my students that if you really have a good solution, you have to commercialize it. You have to take it through a company, through a business, so it reaches the patient. Companies, not universities, take products to patients.”
Dr. Agrawal continued to inform us on the issue of older gentlemen having aortic aneurysms. Unfortunately, when the aorta pops and the heart is pumping, the results can be dire. Usually, a Teflon tube is inserted inside the artery. “We came up with this tube that is biodegradable plastic polymer. It’s electrospun, like cotton candy, but it’s spun as a tube. We put it inside and tried it in a man’s body; it actually put cells down and lined the inside of the aorta very nicely.” Dr. Agrawal was excited and took this venture into a company. He says now they are also looking at using the same thing as a blood vessel itself for people with diabetic peripheral vascular disease.
In response to our question about which company he started, Dr. Agrawal answered, “Cardiovate. Cardio and innovate together—that’s the kind of stuff I like doing. I like creating companies.”
We asked, “What would be your crowning jewel of competence? What are you most proud of?”
“My family,” he answered. “I say my treasures lie at home, and I’m also very proud of what we have been able to do as a team at UTSA and the UT Health Science Center.”