News Release

UC San Diego clinician-engineer teams selected as 2018 Galvanizing Engineering in Medicine awardees

Galvanizing Engineering in Medicine

San Diego, Calif., Sept. 6, 2018 -- Four clinician-engineer teams from UC San Diego have been selected to receive the 2018 Galvanizing Engineering in Medicine (GEM) awards. GEM, an initiative of UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) and UC San Diego Institute of Engineering in Medicine (IEM), brings engineers and clinicians together to develop innovative technologies that can be applied to solving challenging problems in medical care. This year’s projects address challenges in the areas of urology, telerobotic surgery, oncology, and spinal cord injuries.

“We are extremely pleased to announce this year’s recipients of the Galvanizing Engineering in Medicine awards. The projects are impressive, ranging from developing novel treatments for paralysis and pancreatic cancer to innovative improvements for telerobotic surgery and urinary catheters,” said Deborah Spector, PhD, chair of the GEM Committee and co-director of the ACTRI Translational Research Alliance.

Teams include clinicians and engineers from UC San Diego Health departments and UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Each team will receive $60,000 to support projects lasting 12 to 18 months. 

Bacteria-fighting urinary catheter

Madhu Alagiri, MD, a clinical professor of urology; Frederick Spada, PhD, an associate research scientist at the Center for Memory and Recording Research; Frank Talke, PhD, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Michael Tolley, PhD, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, are developing an electricidal urinary catheter to prevent the spread of infectious diseases within the urinary tract. Catheter-associated urinary tract infections affect the largest of all populations at risk for health care-associated infections. Using electrical current to destroy bacteria has the potential to mitigate or remove the risk of these infections. This novel project applies a well-studied technology to both the outer surface and inner channel of a urinary catheter. A galvanic process or small battery will drive the current.

Making telesurgery more accurate, efficient and safe

Ryan Orosco, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, and Michael Yip, PhD, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, are developing methods to optimize accuracy, efficiency and safety in telerobotic surgery. Telesurgery enables surgeons to operate in rural communities, hard to access areas, and austere environments that may be dangerous. Yet technical challenges persist in realizing telesurgery, including information delays that affect a surgeon’s actions and bandwidth limitations. This project focuses on parallel strategies that include catering scaling to each clinician to reduce surgical errors caused by the impact of long-distance travel of information, and overlaying non-delayed surgical instrument positions so the clinician can observe, in real time, where the instruments are without the effect of delay.

Engineering white blood cells to treat pancreatic cancer

Michael Bouvet, MD, a professor of surgery, and Peter Yingxiao Wang, PhD, a professor of bioengineering and IEM, are reengineering a type of white blood cell for a novel immunotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of human cancer, with 90 percent of patient death occurring within one year after diagnosis. Cell-based immunotherapy is becoming a paradigm-shifting approach. This project focuses on engineering and rewiring the molecular signaling of monocytes into macrophages for cancer immunotherapy. Macrophages, born from monocytes, a type of white blood cell, target and digest foreign debris in cells such as tumors.

Spinal cord implant to treat paralysis

Joseph Ciacci, MD, a neurosurgeon and professor of surgery; Shadi Dayeh, PhD, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Vikash Gilja, PhD, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Eric Halgren, PhD, a professor of radiology; Martin Marsala, MD, a professor of anesthesiology; and Joel Martin, MD, a resident in the Department of Surgery, are developing a next-generation spinal cord neuro-electronic implant to treat paralysis. The project centers on a spinal cord stimulation device that is within the spinal column and includes novel microelectrodes, uses less power and is “smarter” and minimally invasive. Their project investigates the safety of this novel device, and tests the effect of periodic low-power spinal cord stimulation on the recovery of function and the combination of this stimulation with stem cell therapy.

View the 2018 GEM abstracts

The GEM Committee includes: Gary S. Firestein, MD, ACTRI director; Deborah Spector, PhD, GEM committee chair; and Shu Chien, MD, PhD, IEM director.

The Institute of Engineering in Medicine (IEM) at UC San Diego has over 130 outstanding faculty from UC San Diego’s Schools of Medicine, Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Jacobs School of Engineering, all sharing the objective of translating creative ideas into clinical medicine and novel products that will transform patient care and improve their health and well-being.


About UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute

UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) is part of a national Clinical and Translational Science Award consortium, led by the National Institutes of Health National Center for Advancing Translational Science. Established in 2010, ACTRI provides infrastructure and support for basic, translational and clinical research throughout the San Diego region to bring discoveries from the laboratory to the bedside, and facilitates training and education of the next generation of researchers. ACTRI carries out its activities in collaboration with institutional and corporate partners and currently has more than 1,425 members.

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Patricia Wieser