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The Eagle: It is critical Congress Fund university research

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WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2016 | comments

By M. KATHERINE BANKS and DENNIS L. O'NEAL

Though the ink is barely dry on the current fiscal year 2016 federal budget, last week began the annual tug-of-war between the administration and Congress on budget priorities for FY 2017.

Before the debate begins, we want to remind our congressional communities about the impact of federal funding on the development of technology that improves our well-being and quality of life.

There are certainly programs that have outlived their useful life, and it is critically important to reign in uncontrolled spending -- at any level of government. The federal government, however, plays an important role in the development of new technology by providing investments in basic research projects that are so critical to the missions and vitality of institutions such as Baylor University and Texas A&M University.

The federal partnership with research universities -- which blossomed in World War II and thrives today -- is critical to our ability to train the next generation of engineers and scientists, and to innovate and develop new technology. As deans of engineering and computer science programs at our universities, we see our researchers addressing global problems every day.

For example, people who suffer from chronic pain-related diseases and conditions often are limited in their abilities to use their fine motor skills. An estimated 55 percent of the general population suffers from chronic pain, especially in joints.

The research of Michael Poor, assistant professor of computer science at Baylor, focuses on development of innovative technology to help people overcome limitations imposed by chronic pain or injury. Poor's research will create computerized devices that replace the need for fine motor skills with broad movements of the hand, arm, and body, extending a person's ability to work while also improving their quality of life at home.

Arum Han, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Texas A&M University, is working to develop "brain-on-a-chip" for drug development against neurological disorders. Organs-on-chips are microfluidic cellular systems that accurately can mimic the functions and responses of physiological systems of animals and humans. These miniature tissues and organs are expected to have a huge impact in broad ranges of applications.

Having the capability to better predict human physiological responses without having to use animal or human models can lead to better understanding of disease mechanisms and accelerate drug development and toxicity screening.

This life-changing research is only possible with funding from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health. Without federal investment, breakthroughs that we anticipate as a result of these research projects would not be possible.

We would like to thank U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, whose district includes both of our campuses, for his support of university research that changes -- and saves -- lives. Indeed, his leadership gives our academic communities great hope for the future.

M. Katherine Banks is the vice chancellor for engineering for The Texas A&M University System and dean of the Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M University. Dennis L. O'Neal is dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science at Baylor University.

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Tags: Education

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