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Where Engineering Meets Imagination
Students, learn about the career of biomedical engineering through some of the latest advancements in the field.
ISA MONTEIRO: Biomedical engineering is one of most interesting fields in the world.
BOB LANGER: Biomedical engineers try to address all kinds of exciting questions at the interface of medicine and engineering.
ALEXANDER DOUD: I think I've always been fascinated with the brain and how it works.
IAHN CAJIGAS: One of my best friends became paralyzed when we were 13, and I really wanted to help him walk again.
MICHAEL BATEMAN: For me, being a mechanical engineer, the heart was the most similar organ to a pump.
CAROLYN MCGREGOR: You don't have to be a medical doctor to help save lives.
ISA MONTEIRO: Biomedical engineering brings these two big fields of medicine and engineering together.
PAOLO BONATO: It's a very broad field.
IAHN CAJIGAS: It's the field in engineering that really allows you to make an impact in a very perceivable way when it comes to human life.
Neural Engineering (University of Minnesota)
PAOLO BONATO: Imagine a neurologist 30 years ago without imaging. Their options were very limited. And that's a remarkable example of how Engineering can impact medicine very dramatically.
BIN HE: We can think, we can feel, we understand, we interact with others, but on the other hand we know very little about how the brain works.
In the field of neural Engineering, we focus on non-invasive brain computer interface. We put electrosensors on the scalp and these sensors can pick up extremely weak electrical signals generated by the neurons.
ALEXANDER DOUD: We're able to pick up voltage differences in different areas of the scalp. So when a subject imagines using an arm or a leg, it actually activates the motor cortex in much the same way it would activate if they were actually doing that thing in real life.
BIN HE: And then we decode this signal to try to find what the subject is thinking or intends to do, and then use that signal to control a device.
ALEXANDER DOUD: The promise of research like this is to allow for paralyzed individuals to interact and to communicate again with the outside world.
Biorobotics & Rehabilitation Engineering (Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital)
IAHN CAJIGAS: We do research in the area of wireless sensors and robotics for rehabilitation. Unfortunately, about 50% of the people that you do any sort of rehab with don't get better and we really don't understand why.
PAOLO BONATO: A major question that we're trying to address is whether, through the interaction with a robot, a person can actually learn motor tasks. That's essential in stroke survivors and traumatic brain injury survivors.
IAHN CAJIGAS: The Lokomat is a robotic exoskeleton for robotic gait training.
THERAPIST: I'm going to make you walk a little bit faster now, okay?
IAHN CAJIGAS: Manual gait training as was usually done, was really strenuous on therapists where they had to independently move the person's legs through the standard walking pattern.
We've formed a collaboration with the company that developed the Lokomat, and so we're actually able to tap in, using our own software, and change the way that the robot works.
PAOLO BONATO: The Motion Analysis Laboratory was established to perform clinical evaluations, mostly in children with cerebral palsy.
CHIARA MANICELLI: We have eight infrared cameras that go around the room and they point in the center walkway. The cameras emit the light that gets reflected from the markers and the computer can pick up the movement of the markers.
The green lines show the different bony segments while the yellow line represents the force that is exerted during gait.
It's something that will help doctors in seeing how the outcome of surgeries or intervention last through time.
CHIARA MANICELLI: A lot of times when they come in they want to impress the clinician, so they tend to walk better than what they would do when they're at home.
PAOLO BONATO: The shoe that we have developed has sensors that are imbedded in the sole of the shoe itself.
CHIARA MANICELLI: Once they put the shoe on, it's like wearing a normal sneaker. You can have monitoring that is less obtrusive and that is conducted in their home environment. So we can actually collect more data and have a better insight on how the disease progresses.
PAOLO BONATO: Wearable technology has become possible over the past 10 years because of major developments that allow us to integrate sensors into garments.
CAROLYN MCGREGOR: We have the potential that if you can wear some form of a monitoring device, your vitals can be monitored on a more regular basis and we can send that information through a Cloud environment before you would need to go into an emergency department because you're very unwell.
Tissue Engineering (Langer Lab/MIT)
OMAR KHAN: My father is actually an amputee and when I was young, I promised him I'd make him an arm one day.
An amputee can live their life pretty normally with a prosthetic, but the idea that you can just take it to that next level, that's important to me.
BOB Langer: One way to do it that we've developed is you could take a plastic scaffold, a polymer scaffold. That could be whatever shape you want, depending on the organ or tissue you're trying to make. Then you might put certain cells on it, and then give it the right nutrients and also the right mechanical forces, grow it to a certain point, and then do a transplant onto the patient, or into the patient.
ISA MONTEIRO: If you think about how complex an organ is, it's really difficult to mimic what happens in nature. One of the big challenges is the vascularization.
Also, in terms of stem cells, there is a long way to go. We have to understand what makes them differentiate, how can we control them so that they will not develop cancer?
BOB Langer: We're working on making various tissues and organs in the body: new spinal cords, new vocal chords, new intestine, new heart tissue. So there's a whole range of things that we've been working on.
Microbubbles (Langer Lab/MIT)
BOB Langer: Today in the area of drug delivery, some of the things we're most excited about are nano technology where one might be able to deliver drugs right to a tumor and no other place in the body.
BEATA CHERTOK: Microbubbles, they're very tiny particles, micron size, and instead of being filled with liquid, they're filled with gas. And because of that they're visible on ultrasound and they're used to improve ultrasound diagnostics. So I am focusing on trying to incorporate drugs into these microbubbles.
If I have those microbubbles loaded with drugs, I can inject them into the body, they will distribute everywhere, but then I can disrupt the microbubbles by an ultrasound beam and the drug will be delivered specifically where the drug is needed.
And so this is the exciting Engineering design that I am working on.
Translating Science to Industry
ISA MONTEIRO: It's not just research that stays on the bench; it's research that goes to market, goes to help people.
BOB Langer: We try to dream up things that we feel can really have a big impact, like maybe a super Band-Aid. We set it up to look very much like a gecko, because the gecko has enormous adhesivity on their feet, so to speak, and the Band-Aid has all these nano protrusions from it, so there's enormous surface area.
And so now we're looking at it for making certain forms of surgery easier like intestinal surgery, various different types of medical adhesive applications.
A lot of times what we do is we license things to companies or a lot of times we've started companies that create products.
PAOLO BONATO: There is other cases in which companies are actually coming in and they're asking us to either assess their technology or redesign their technology.
PAUL IAIZZO: So we get to see cutting-edge technologies, the prototype devices.
Visible Heart Laboratory (University of Minnesota)
PAUL IAIZZO: A major focus of our research is the electrical properties of both skeletal and cardiac muscle.
One of the things that we're doing that is really novel is we're actually reanimating human hearts. And these are hearts that have been deemed nonviable for transplantation, that were gifts from the organ donors and their families to the lab.
JULIANNE EGGUM: And if they have good enough function, we'll reanimate them and we'll be able to look at the internal anatomy while the isolated heart is functioning.
PAUL IAIZZO: And just like a heart transplant, you have four to six hours before you need to reanimate that heart. We'll get it to beat on its own in a native rhythm, and then we can put cameras inside and visualize any of the functional anatomy and really study this device/tissue interface of new pacing systems or leads.
We actually have a whole free access website (www.vhlab.umn.edu) that anybody can go online and see the functional anatomy from these human hearts.
A Good Career
OMAR KHAN: Being able to make an artificial tissue or organ to help someone you love, I mean that's compelling to anyone, right?
PAUL IAIZZO: I've been reanimating hearts for the last 14 years and it's still exciting.
MICHAEL BATEMAN: The medical device industry is a consistently booming field. I feel that my job prospects are very good in it.
PAUL IAIZZO: A large percentage of biomedical engineers actually apply to medical school and go into the health career paths.
ALEXANDER DOUD: I hope to one day be a physician who can kind of be involved in device design and start-up entrepreneurial endeavors.
PAUL IAIZZO: It's a career that just opens all kinds of doors to you.
ALEXANDER DOUD: I think the most important thing as a young student is to get involved early and get involved often; find research that interests you, because then you'll never work.
JULIANNE EGGUM: Do rotations in different labs at your school to get a feel of what's out there and what would interest you the most.
MICHAEL BATEMAN: When I arrived at Minnesota, I looked at five or six different laboratories and made the decision based on the people working there and the kind of careers the people that graduated from that lab went to.
ALEXANDER DOUD: I started a couple weeks after I became a freshman in college and it's really paid off for me.
BEATA CHERTOK: It's essential to know chemistry, to know basic physics, to know basic Engineering principles.
OMAR KHAN: The timelines involved here are much longer than in other fields, and you have to be realistic about that sort of thing.
ISA MONTEIRO: You have to be passionate about what you do, you have to love your research. When this happens, then you can achieve brilliant results.
Join EMBS (Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society)
CAROLYN MCGREGOR: I initially joined the Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society to be able to connect with other like-minded people.
BIN HE: That's where I feel that I learn what exciting science is going on in the field.
ALEXANDER DOUD: For a student, an organization like this allows you to connect with people who are well-established in their careers, people who can serve as mentors for you as you're developing your career and, more than that, actually get involved with what they're doing.
ISA MONTEIRO: If you like science, if you like Engineering, and if you like medicine, this is just the perfect degree because it combines everything.
IAHN CAJIGAS: If you're passionate about helping people, there's so much to be done as an engineer.