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Pioneer in Molecular Imaging to Lead MSU’s New Bio Engineering Research Initiatives

Chris Contag portrait photo

Christopher H. Contag will join Michigan State University as the inaugural director of the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering and the chairperson of the new Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Contag was previously a professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Radiology, Bioengineering, and Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University. He held the titles of associate chief of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, director of Stanford’s Center for Innovation in In Vivo Imaging and co-director of the Molecular Imaging Program.

MSU’s new Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering (IQ) is a collaboration between the Colleges of Engineering, Human Medicine and Natural Science. It will be an interdisciplinary research center devoted to basic and applied research at the interface of life sciences, engineering, information science, and other physical and mathematical sciences. This new institute, and many of the associated faculty positions, is part of MSU’s Global Impact Initiative, designed to address the grand challenges through the creation of over 100 new faculty positions in some of the most promising – and critical – fields of research.

The Department of Biomedical Engineering was established in January 2015 and will begin offering graduate degrees in early 2017. The department will be housed in the new Bio Engineering Facility, which will open in late October of this year. This facility will bring together engineers and basic science researchers with medical researchers to help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Rendering of Bio Engineering Building

The new Bio Engineering Facility will be dedicated at a Grand Opening on October 27.

“New programs, facilities and faculty are critical investments in MSU’s research infrastructure as well as in the success of future generations of students,” said Provost June Pierce Youatt. “As a leading figure in medical imaging research, Chris Contag is the right person to lead our new institute in this emerging field of study.”

According to Stephen Hsu, vice president of research and graduate studies, MSU has all the right disciplines and faculty to collaborate on cutting-edge biomedical research.

“Contag will lead an interdisciplinary team of researchers from basic sciences, engineering and medicine to advance human health,” Hsu said. “We have the highest expectations for what he and his team will achieve.”

In his new roles, Contag has a rare opportunity to lead this bold new initiative in collaborative health science and engineering research, said Leo Kempel, dean of the College of Engineering.

“Contag’s international reputation and leadership skills will shape new interdisciplinary partnerships and expand the college’s research enterprise as applied to human health,” Kempel said. “This is an extremely exciting time at our college.”

Contag graduated from the University of Minnesota with an undergraduate degree in biology and a Ph.D. in microbiology. His research career began while studying mother-to-infant transmission of HIV leading to enhanced understanding of how the disease develops. It was during this work that he turned to non-invasive imaging to help study living processes in the body. He will build on this foundation of developing and using imaging tools to understand biology, and expand his research scope at Michigan State.

“I am honored and excited to lead the new institute and biomedical engineering department,” Contag said. “With two medical schools, nursing, veterinary medicine, along with engineering and the new Department of Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering, MSU has the essential elements of a world-class biomedical engineering program and to be become a national leader in biomedical research and development.

“At MSU, the most pressing biomedical questions will direct the science, and if we don’t have the tools we need to answer those questions, we’ll build them,” he said. “Our goal is to understand complex biological processes in the context of living organs and tissues for the purpose of developing and engineering the most effective therapies to restore normal function. We have a real opportunity to drive the convergence of disciplines through biomedical engineering, and make fundamental discoveries that change paradigms in biomedicine.”

Contag’s appointment will begin Nov. 1, pending approval by the MSU Board of Trustees.

Contact: Kim Ward, Media Communications, (517) 432-0117, kim.ward@cabs.msu.edu

Story: Melanie Kauffman and Kim Ward

Photo: H.J. Seeley


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