Villafana, Raghavan Featured in UI Research and Economic Development Story

Minneapolis-based medical entrepreneur Manny Villafaña and Engineering faculty researcher M. L. Raghavan are showcased in a special news feature published by the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

Villafana has deep roots at the university and the college.  The New York native and son of Puerto Rican immigrants says his relationship with the UI dates back

to the early 1980s, when he met his future wife, the former Elizabeth Elder, daughter of a UI College of Engineering alumnus (Howard J. Elder) and a graduate herself of the UI Tippie College of Business.  

“Elizabeth always talked about her father,” Villafaña said. “He died about a year before I met her, so I never met him.”

Trying to think of a wedding gift for his future bride, Villafaña contacted someone at the UI and asked: “What do you need?”

His contact at the UI said the College of Engineering needed a computer lab, as personal computers were just emerging as important tools for research, design and engineering.

“So we worked out a donation to the UI on the condition the lab be named the Howard J. Elder Computing Lab,” Villafaña said.

Villafaña has continued his philanthropic support for the college, and also works with students in the UI ’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and provides philanthropic support for the UI Department of Biology in the name of his mother.

In May 2014, the UI gave Villafaña an Honorary Doctor of Science degree to recognize his contributions to biomedical device development, biomedical engineering, civic leadership, and student success.

In February, he signed a license with the UI Research Foundation to allow his newest company, Medical 21, to leverage the UI research as an important step toward—he hopes—eventually creating the world’s first viable artificial vascular graft for heart bypass.

The license will allow Medical 21 (the name, incidentally, a nod to the merging of a 21st century idea with 21st century technologies) to further develop the work of M.L. Raghavan, Ph.D., the Robert and Virginia Wheeler Faculty Fellow of Engineering in the UI College of Engineering and an expert on cardiovascular biomechanics and 3D modeling; Chaid Schwarz, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering working under his guidance; and Vijay Kumar, Ph.D., associate professor emeritus of Pharmaceutics and Translational Therapeutics in the UI College of Pharmacy and an expert in tissues engineering.

Raghavan, who runs the BioMechanics of Soft Tissues Lab at the UI Center for Computer Aided Design, said his lab studies the forces and motion of the heart and arteries and how they are affected by diseases (such as aneurysms) as a step toward designing devices to treat those diseases (such as stents, grafts, and prosthetic heart valves).

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