New center aids in search for cure

USF would, to say the least, make quite a name for itself if researchers here discovered a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or, say, cancer.

While such discoveries taking place at USF may seem like a pipe dream, they may be closer to reality than many people think.

The Center of Excellence in Bioengineering and Life Sciences is expected to provide the vehicle through which breakthroughs in finding cures for diseases may be discovered. In addition, it is expected to create new jobs and giving a boost to Tampa Bay’s already booming biotech industry.

USF is one of several Florida universities competing for $30 million in funds set aside by the state Legislature as part of an initiative begun by Gov. Jeb Bush. The Emerging Technology Commission, or ETC, will select no fewer than two proposals and no more than five and dole out up to $10 million per university.

USF President Judy Genshaft said she thinks the university’s chances of being awarded the funds are good because, for one, “excellence attracts excellence.” Also, Genshaft said USF has some unique aspects to it, such as being home to Florida’s only school of public health and one of the nation’s top ten cancer research centers — the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center — all of which she hopes will attract the state’s attention.

“We’re really unique in having all these pieces together,” Genshaft said. “I think our chances are very good.”

Carl Carlucci, USF’s Executive Vice President, said from an investor’s perspective, Florida as a whole would benefit from the center.

“We think it would be a good investment for the state,” Carlucci said.

Several colleges, including the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering, will play a role in the center.

Michael Kovac, spokesman for the College of Engineering, said the center is a “marriage of engineering and life sciences.”

“The center has a very comprehensive look on life sciences and bioengineering on a micro and macro level,” Kovac said.

Should the ETC decide against awarding USF a grant, Genshaft said other ways would be found to fund the center.

“We’d be looking at investment capital, and it would be through other means,” Genshaft said. But, she added, “It’s not going to take away from students or teaching.”

Michael Fountain, spokesman for the Center for Entrepreneurship, said the center of excellence would be intimately involved with local businesses.

“The business community we view as being in a strong partnership with the center,” Fountain said.

This partnership includes developing alliances with businesses and marketing and commercializing products created by the center of excellence, Fountain said.

Kovac said the role of businesses in the center is a major part of its focus.

“The center has a clear thrust to the commercialization of the results of the research we’re doing,” Kovac said.

However, Kovac stressed what he termed “the multi-faceted” nature of the center.

“The College of Engineering is a one of the many players involved,” Kovac said. “Really, the strength of (the center) is it is broadly based.”

According to Fountain, another strength of the center will be the training and education it provides to students and faculty.

Kovac agreed, adding that it would assist all the colleges involved with the center in recruiting students and faculty.

“If you have available to students a center and information that can help pull them into a career, then it will be a tremendous incentive for them to come here,” Kovac said.

Genshaft said the bottom line is that the center will make it possible to help people.

“What you’re doing is providing a service to the community,” Genshaft said.