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Five Cutting-edge Advances in Biomedical Engineering and Their Applications in Medicine

Alliance of 50 experts from 34 elite universities reveals pioneering engineering advance across five vital domains

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Bridging precision engineering and precision medicine to create personalized physiology avatars. Pursuing on-demand tissue and organ engineering for human health. Revolutionizing neuroscience by using AI to engineer advanced brain interface systems. Engineering the immune system for health and wellness. Designing and engineering genomes for organism repurposing and genomic perturbations. 

These are the five research areas where the field of biomedical engineering has the potential to achieve tremendous impact on the field of medicine, according to “Grand Challenges at the Interface of Engineering and Medicine,” a study published by a 50-person task force published in the latest issue of IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology. The paper is backed by the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. 

Portrait of Shankar Subramaniam
Shankar Subramaniam is the lead author of the taskforce, distinguished professor in the Shu Chien-Gene Lay Department of Bioengineering at the University of California San Diego.
Watch his presentation on the five grand challenges at the interface of engineering and medicine. 

“These grand challenges offer unique opportunities that can transform the practice of engineering and medicine,” said Shankar Subramaniam, lead author of the taskforce, distinguished professor in the Shu Chien-Gene Lay Department of Bioengineering at the University of California San Diego. “Innovations in the form of multi-scale sensors and devices, creation of humanoid avatars and the development of exceptionally realistic predictive models driven by AI can radically change our lifestyles and response to pathologies. Institutions can revolutionize education in biomedical and engineering, training the greatest minds to engage in the most important problem of all times – human health.”

In addition to Subramaniam, the following faculty from the UC San Diego Shu Chien-Gene Lay Department of Bioengineering were part of the task force: Stephanie Fraley, associate professor, Prashant Mali, professor, Berhard Palsson, Y.C. Fung Endowed Professor in Bioengineering and professor of pediatrics, and Kun Zhang, professor and a former department chair.

The study provides a roadmap to pursue transformative research work that, over the next decade, is expected to transform the practice of medicine. The advances would impact a wide range of conditions and diseases, from cancer, to diabetes, to transplants, to prosthetics.

The five grand challenges facing biomedical engineering

Bridging precision engineering and precision medicine for personalized physiology avatars

In an increasingly digital age, we have technologies that gather immense amounts of data on patients, which clinicians can add to or pull from. Making use of this data to develop accurate models of physiology, called “avatars” – which take into account multimodal measurements and comorbidities, concomitant medications, potential risks and costs – can bridge individual patient data to hyper-personalized care, diagnosis, risk prediction, and treatment. Advanced technologies, such as wearable sensors and digital twins, can provide the basis of a solution to this challenge.

The pursuit of on-demand tissue and organ engineering for human health

Tissue engineering is entering a pivotal period in which developing tissues and organs on demand, either as permanent or temporary implants, is becoming a reality. To shepherd the growth of this modality, key advancements in stem cell engineering and manufacturing – along with ancillary technologies such as gene editing – are required. Other forms of stem cell tools, such as organ-on-a-chip technology, can soon be built using a patient’s own cells and can make personalized predictions and serve as “avatars.”

Revolutionizing neuroscience using artificial intelligence (AI) to engineer advanced brain-interface systems

Using AI, we have the opportunity to analyze the various states of the brain through everyday situations and real-world functioning to noninvasively pinpoint pathological brain function. Creating technology that does this is a monumental task, but one that is increasingly possible. Brain prosthetics, which supplement, replace or augment functions, can relieve the disease burden caused neurological conditions. Additionally, AI modeling of brain anatomy, physiology, and behavior, along with the synthesis of neural organoids, can unravel the complexities of the brain and bring us closer to understanding and treating these diseases.

Engineering the immune system for health and wellness

With a heightened understanding of the fundamental science governing the immune system, we can strategically make use of the immune system to redesign human cells as therapeutic and medically invaluable technologies. The application of immunotherapy in cancer treatment provides evidence of the integration of engineering principles with innovations in vaccines, genome, epigenome and protein engineering, along with advancements in nanomedicine technology, functional genomics and synthetic transcriptional control.

Designing and engineering genomes for organism repurposing and genomic perturbations

Despite the rapid advances in genomics in the past few decades, there are obstacles remaining in our ability to engineer genomic DNA. Understanding the design principles of the human genome and its activity can help us create solutions to many different diseases that involve engineering new functionality into human cells, effectively leveraging the epigenome and transcriptome, and building new cell-based therapeutics. Beyond that, there are still major hurdles in gene delivery methods for in vivo gene engineering, in which we see biomedical engineering being a component to the solution to this problem.

“We are living in unprecedented times where the collision of engineering and medicine is creating entirely novel strategies for human health. The outcome of our task force, with the emergence of the major research and training opportunities is likely to reverberate in both worlds--engineering and medicine--for decades to come” said Michael Miller, Professor and Director of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, who served as a senior author on the manuscript.

Learn more about research and education at UC San Diego in: Artificial Intelligence

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