Teaching clinic-based neuroengineering
he product of collaborations among more than 15 UW-Madison medical, science and engineering departments
and units, the National Institutes of Health-sponsored Clinical Neuroengineering Training Program (CNTP) will enable students pursuing doctoral degrees to get out of the classroom and into the clinic.
Coupled with neuroscience and engineering knowledge, experience working with a clinician to solve a real-world problem in neuroscience
will give students a unique trio of tools, says Beth Meyerand, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, medical physics and radiology and the program's co-director.
"It's very unusual for someone to feel equally comfortable in benchtop neuroscience, engineering development and the clinic," she says.
Meyerand and Tom Yin, a professor of biomedical engineering and physiology and CNTP co-director, say they hope to attract students with diverse academic backgrounds. "That's the whole idea of the program — to have this interaction between these different disciplines," says Meyerand. "It's a great opportunity for the students to learn from each other if they're coming from different backgrounds."
The program is housed in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and affiliated with the Neuroscience Training
Program; students will receive support for two years. Although they'll earn PhD degrees from traditional departments — everything from biomedical engineering and mathematics to neuroscience, ophthalmology and psychology — students must have representatives from the engineering, neuroscience and clinical areas of the CNTP on their thesis committees.
CNTP students also undertake clinical rotations, similar to those of advanced medical students. "It's very unusual for grad students to have an opportunity to do that," says Meyerand. "That's sort of the ideal way for them to get clinical exposure."
For engineers, the program might mean developing new skills in neuroscience, then working with clinicians to apply their knowledge to actual problems. (See "Unlocking the brain," a story about Assistant Professors
Justin Williams and P. Charles Garell.) "You have to know some neuroscience, you have to tackle the engineering problems of implanting
these electrodes, and they're a great clinical solution," says Yin.
The program's 45-plus faculty members have expertise in areas ranging from MRI imaging, studies on the stem-cell level, and sensory and learning processes of speech perception to mathematical modeling, neuromuscular
diseases and optic neuropathy.
With a program that joins such a range of interests, Yin and Meyerand hope the graduate students aren't the only people doing the learning. "We're hoping this will bring the faculty who are working in these different areas together and provide a dialog between faculty members who may not normally rub shoulders with each other," says Yin. "And usually, then, good things come out of that."