Biotech economy expands with new degrees, research opportunities

April 5, 2018

This piece is presented by South Dakota Biotech.

There’s always something new in Dan Engebretson’s world.

The chair of the biomedical engineering department at USD and director of the GEAR Center, Engebretson works at the intersection of higher education and bioscience research and development.

We caught up with him to find out what new opportunities he’s seeing for students and for the biotech industry.

You began offering an associate degree in integrated science in the fall. How is that going?

It’s going well. We have five students enrolled initially in our soft start, and we have quite a bit of interest in the program for next fall. Students use this degree to prepare to participate in the emerging biotech and med-tech economy. A lot of the content of the program emerged after talking with folks at places like Alumend and SAB Biotherapeutics to make sure we’re developing a workforce to meet their needs as those companies expand.

The Board of Regents recently approved the intent to plan a joint bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering with South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. What opportunities will this open up for students and employers?

This is the natural continuation of our associate degree. The associate degree is aimed at folks on the floor while the bachelor’s degree will train folks for leadership opportunities within the biotech sector. The goal is to start in the fall of 2018. We think all the students currently in the associate’s program will move into the bachelor’s program. At the School of Mines, they started a student chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society, even though they don’t have a degree program yet, and they already have between 15 and 20 members, so I think it will be a very popular degree. All our growing biotech companies in Sioux Falls also will need workers, so we think there will be demand, and you’ll also be able to complete the entire bachelor’s degree in Sioux Falls.

What else is new at the GEAR Center?

We’re working closely with Antimicrobial Materials Inc., or AMI, and they have received two i6 grant awards from the state. We’ve been helping them to develop their antimicrobial technology. They make antimicrobial materials, and we’ve been working on two projects. One is a Department of Defense-funded project to develop antimicrobial textiles, and the other just getting spun up is to develop antimicrobial conveyer belts for places like Smithfield so you reduce the risk of pathogen infection.

How have companies been utilizing your GMP space?

It’s getting utilization. We’d like to see more. The clean room space is for a specific set of activities, but we serve a broader GMP base. We’ve got three companies we’re working with in that space right now, including GlycoScience Research, which is working on using sheep with a certain genetic trait to help those with Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

You also have a maker space available at the GEAR Center. How can more people take advantage of that?

We’ve got three different 3-D printers and a computer-aided design station, so you can work on design. Our students use it quite a bit, but I’d like to get more public awareness out on it and get more people using it. It’s on the second floor of the GEAR Center at University Center, and anyone can use it. Call 275-7474 for more details.

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Biotech economy expands with new degrees, research opportunities

From plans for a biomedical engineering degree to a public makerspace, there’s a lot going on inside the GEAR Center at University Center.

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