National Science Foundation awards $15 million grant to Rutgers-led engineering research consortium

May 18, 2006

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. - The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $15 million grant to Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and three collaborating universities to improve the way pharmaceuticals, foods and agricultural products are manufactured.

The five-year grant funds an NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) to enhance the quality and consistency of materials used in drug tablets, processed foods, agrichemicals and other composite organic products. Research will focus on the structure of component materials, including particle shapes and sizes and forces that bind them together. The center also will study how to efficiently produce structured materials in large quantity. Understanding the nature of these materials will provide a foundation for new manufacturing processes that are more predictable, consistent and cost-effective.

"While these industries have come up with many innovations such as controlled-release drug tablets, there is still more opportunity to incorporate materials science and engineering methods in manufacturing," said Fernando Muzzio, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at Rutgers and the grant's principal investigator. "Today's products and processes were often developed through costly and time-consuming experimentation. We want to uncover more of the science behind these products and the engineering that goes into making them, so companies can get them to market faster, cut costs and eliminate waste."

Joining Rutgers in the consortium are the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Purdue University and the University of Puerto Rico, schools with established teaching and research programs in pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences and technology.

In addition, 28 companies are providing $2.5 million in research funding during the ERC's first year. Muzzio said the consortium expects to bring in as much as $40 million in additional support over the next 10 years from pharmaceutical and food makers as well as companies that supply manufacturing and analytical equipment.

"Being selected for this grant affirms that Rutgers and its partners have the talent, resources and breadth of expertise to work across disciplines, such as pharmacy, biomedical engineering, chemistry and manufacturing technology," said Michael Klein, dean of the School of Engineering at Rutgers. "And when coupled with corporate support, the ERC is a model of collaboration for creating new knowledge and applying it quickly to address societal needs."

The ERC also expands a five-year, $3.2 million doctoral training program in nanopharmaceutical engineering that the NSF awarded Rutgers, NJIT and Puerto Rico in 2005. That grant is part of the NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, which provides interdisciplinary training to scientists and engineers pursuing doctorates in fields with broad societal impact. Graduate students in the Rutgers-led IGERT will develop nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems, including nanoparticle product and process design.

"The research we pursue will apply to any organic material where the physical structure will affect how the material behaves," said Alberto Cuitiño, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Rutgers and the grant's co-principal investigator. Beyond pharmaceutical tablets, the team's work could be applied to food products, agrichemicals, and catalysts. By lowering the cost of pharmaceutical product development, the ERC's research could play a substantial role in providing medicines to third-world populations. Processed foods could be made more effective at delivering essential nutrients. And in the agrichemical business, it could help deliver fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides more directly to crops and reduce contamination to handlers and the environment.

"I am proud to welcome Rutgers, NJIT, Purdue and Puerto Rico into the 2006 class of Engineering Research Centers," said Lynn Preston, Deputy Division Director for Centers at the National Science Foundation. "The centers advance fundamental knowledge and serve as a platform for technologies that spawn new U.S. industries and transform the industry and service sectors. As multiple-institution partnerships, the centers foster collaboration among researchers from many disciplines and provide rich educational and research environments for preparing new generations of engineering leaders."
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ERCs conduct pioneering research in emerging technologies and train the next generation of engineers. Each center, while based at a university, is a collaborative partnership, drawing together individuals and resources from other universities, industry partners, and pre-college teachers and students. The maximum possible duration of NSF support is 10 years, after which the ERCs are expected to become self-sufficient.

Lead investigators on the grant from collaborating institutions are Rajesh Dave at NJIT in Newark, Gintaras Reklaitis and Kenneth Morris at Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind., and Carlos Velazquez at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez.

Rutgers University

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