Donation will help bring new medical technology to market

    Alumni couple establish new engineering chair to commercialize research that will improve lives through better health care.

    By Richard Cairney on October 7, 2013

    (Edmonton) A $2.2-million donation from University of Alberta alumni Jim Sorensen, ’63 BSc(ChemEng), and his wife Marlene, ‘70 MEd, will aid in the commercialization of new medical technologies.

    The Sorensens are establishing a new chair position in the Department of Biomedical Engineering that Jim describes as “revolutionary” because its goal is to commercialize new medical technology.

    “The result will be the commercialization of medical technologies which would improve the lives of Canadians and people around the world through better health care,” Jim said at a gift announcement held during the U of A’s 2013 Alumni Weekend. “This chair will meet an enormous need as traditional granting programs do not provide funding for commercialization activities.”

    David Lynch, dean of the Faculty of Engineering, noted that the faculty has been growing its biomedical engineering education and research capacity over the years, offering biomedical options in each engineering program and developing a deep pool of leading, interdisciplinary biomedical engineering researchers.

    Biomedical engineering in the faculty is an area of “major focus and prominence,” with more than 30 professors and their graduate students exploring biomedical engineering applications such as imaging technologies, drug delivery systems and technologies to support remote medicine, Lynch said.

    Funding for the Jim Sorensen Chair in Biomedical Engineering will exist in perpetuity. The Sorensens have pledged $2.2 million, and the faculty will contribute $800,000 that is available for biomedical engineering.

    The Sorensens previously established the Trudy Sorensen Memorial Scholarship in Biomedical Engineering. Named for their late daughter Trudy, who died of breast cancer, the $5,000 scholarship is awarded annually to a student with superior academic achievement entering the second, third or fourth year of study in the materials engineering biomedical option.

    Sorensen, who works as an independent consultant specializing in refinery design, says he and his wife were pleasantly surprised to discover they were capable of establishing a chair program “even though I did not start a multimillion-dollar corporation.”

    In helping the couple give back to the university and have an impact on health care, Jim said, the Faculty of Engineering “helped us realize our dream.”

    Lynch says the “very special gift” will have a lasting impact and will help bring biomedical research from the research lab to the bedside.

    U of A engineering professors are recognized internationally for biomedical advances including inhalable drug delivery, medical imaging and the development of an ultra-fast laser scalpel. The new chair position will help bring those advances to health practitioners, he said.

    “This gift helps us move in a direction where there is a person at the end of the process who will benefit from this research. This helps us move from the lab to commercialize for the public good, to translate education and research to use.”