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UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

Engineers will Pioneer the Future of Medicine

San Diego, CA, April 1, 2015 -- Many of tomorrow’s solutions to today’s challenges in medicine will require feats of engineering in addition to biology, chemistry and health sciences. In fact, inventions such as valve prostheses, vascular stents and heart rhythm control systems are examples of how biology and medicine can work together with engineering to improve processes for maintaining health and quality of life.

This is one of the main messages coming out of an article published April 1 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The article, titled “Engineering as a new frontier for translational medicine”, is co-authored by four prominent bioengineers including professor Shu Chien from the University of California, San Diego.

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Professor Shu Chien 

Shu Chien, who is the founding Director of UC San Diego's Institute of Engineering in Medicine (IEM), has contributed to collaborations among faculty in the engineering and medical disciplines at UC San Diego and across the nation. He received his M.D. from the National Taiwan University and his Ph.D. in Physiology from Columbia University.

“The MD-PhD training I received allow me to understand the medical needs and relevance of our laboratory research, facilitate my collaboration with medical colleagues, and introduce clinical examples into my teaching,” said Chien.

Achieving a vision in which the lines between medicine and engineering are blurred doesn’t come without a price tag. But the authors say technological innovations should reduce cost, increase quality and democratize health care delivery.

“For example, the reduction in cost of genome sequencing that resulted from technological improvements has now made sequencing available to patients for cancer diagnostics and management,” said Chien.

Education: Where Engineering and Medicine Should Meet

In parallel with the incorporation of engineering in biomedical research, the authors maintain that medical education should also integrate engineering principles. They outline several approaches that achieve the goal of intertwining medical and engineering education and training.

“The first is to have individuals trained in both disciplines, such as an MD-PhD majoring in bioengineering,” said Chien. “We’ve already seen an increase in bioengineering enrollment in the MD-PhD program at UC San Diego, but it is limited by funding. There are many more qualified students than there are dollars.”

Chien says there is a critical need for additional funding for this important group of the future generation of healthcare personnel from foundations, philanthropists and other private sources.

Another option is to foster interactions between the two disciplines by bringing engineers and clinicians who understand each other’s culture and language together to practice engineering-based translational medicine. This is being fostered by the IEM at UC San Diego and elsewhere.

“Several programs have been created with this in mind at UC San Diego,” said Chien. “One example is the Galvanizing Engineering in Medicine (GEM) program co-sponsored by the Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI) and IEM, in which clinicians in various areas of medicine first identify an unmet need in patient care and then work with a team of engineers to solve the problem and move the technology to the clinic.”

GEM has already funded an at-home monitoring device for cystic fibrosis (CF) patients and molecular engineering and imaging of T cells for immunotherapy of multiple myeloma.

Currently, GEM is seeking proposals for the second phase of the program in which engineers propose solutions for the clinical problems identified in Phase I. The deadline to submit a proposal is April 30, 2015.The authors suggest that a third option for achieving a unified vision in engineering and medicine is a new education paradigm in which medical education includes engineering principles and the quantitative sciences in addition to clinical and basic medical sciences and engineering education includes the basic medical sciences.

“This way, physicians will be comfortable using new technologies and engineering approaches to benefit their patients, and engineers will understand the unmet clinical needs and design effective solutions,” said Chien.

Engineering Meets Medicine at UC San Diego

Many projects currently underway in the Jacobs School of Engineering exemplify how engineering is broadly advancing our basic knowledge and its medical translation.

Bioengineering professor Todd Coleman and collaborators at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are developing a stamp-sized wearable patch of tiny circuits, sensors, and wireless transmitters that sticks to the skin like a temporary tattoo for monitoring peri- and neo-natal brain and heart functions.

In addition, nanoengineering professor Liangfang Zhang has developed – for broad biomedical applications – nanoparticles coated in membranes of red blood cells or cancer cells.

Click Here for a HighResolution VersionProfessor Chien helps students use sensors to measure muscle tension under different loads during a new hands-on pilot course for undergraduates in bioengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

“These are just two examples of the exciting research taking place at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering in collaboration with the School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences,” said Chien.

Many of the exciting projects happening at the intersection of engineering and medicine at UC San Diego can be seen at Research Expo on April 16, 2015 or at Bioengineering Day on April 18, 2015.

The Jacobs School of Engineering also offers a Master of Advanced Study in Medical Device Engineering, which provides engineers with instruction in bioengineering, biomaterials, genomics, computing and telecommunications needed to develop next-generation medical devices and instrumentation. See what students and faculty have to say about the program here.

Visit Science Translational Medicine to read “Engineering as a new frontier for translational medicine”. The paper was co-authored by Shu Chien of the University of California, San Diego, Rashid Bashir of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Robert M. Nerem of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Roderic Pettigrew of the National Institute of Health.


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Media Contacts

Brittanie Collinsworth
UC San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation
Phone: 858-534-8390