The late James J. Cain’s personal struggle with diabetes piqued his interest in emerging research for his chronic condition. After reading an article about diabetes research in 2003, Cain contacted Dr. Gerard Coté, the biomedical engineer conducting the research.
Dr. Coté later became head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and developed a strong relationship with Cain that led to the creation of two James J. Cain ’51 Professorships in Biomedical Engineering. These gifts support faculty members with significant academic achievements who are leading cutting-edge research on chronic health conditions. Following Cain’s passing in 2015, the gifts funded through his will and retirement accounts now allow the professorships’ holders to support doctoral students, acquire lab equipment and participate in academic conferences to explain their research advances while also mentoring future biomedical engineers. “His gift supports biomedical engineering research that improves the health and well-being of Texans and people worldwide, with emphasis on diabetes,” said Coté, who holds one of the professorships. “His impact will be seen for decades to come.”
Dr. Mike McShane ’94 ’99, Cain’s other recipient and current department head, explained the prestige of professorships and their importance in retaining leading faculty. “They recognize outstanding performance, show appreciation for and acknowledge the value of a faculty member, and also provide flexible funds that allow testing of high-risk ideas,” he added
Seeing the Light
McShane’s laboratory produces sensor systems using a combination of biomaterials and optoelectronics. Using microscale and nanoscale fabrication approaches, tiny color-changing hydrogels are prepared; then the technology is inserted under the skin with hypodermic needles. These hydrogel devices respond to bodily changes that can be measured by shining a light through the skin from a wearable device.
These inventions are being used in research labs with the goal of helping patients with chronic conditions, including diabetes, cancer, kidney failure and gout. “My research focuses on creating monitoring devices that can help people manage their conditions,” he said. “Monitoring involves frequent feedback or providing a health status so they can make adjustments in lifestyle or treatment as needed.”
Implanting a Cure
Coté and McShane are developing a variety of technologies for underserved populations with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Their work includes developing an implantable barcode that measures glucose and triggers an alarm if a health issue, such as hypoglycemia, arises so the appropriate treatment can be administered. Coté’s team is also creating handheld devices that measure biomarkers like hemoglobin A1C that show the monthly average glucose concentration. Emergency medical technicians can also use these devices to measure cardiac biomarkers on a patient having chest pain to identify a heart attack.
Cardiovascular disease is the world’s top killer; meanwhile, diabetes, which is the seventh leading cause of death, contributes to cardiovascular disease. “These are particularly acute in underserved populations that lack access to health care,” Coté said. “People can use these devices at home or in the clinic, particularly in underserved areas in rural South Texas and also in underserved urban areas, such as the Los Angeles-Compton area or Miami-Dade County.”
A generous supporter of Texas A&M, Cain also established two professorships in the Department of Mechanical Engineering that currently benefit faculty there.
To learn more about how you can impact research by creating a professorship through a planned gift, contact Angela Throne ’03 at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-5638.