Physicians, learn about some of the latest advances in biomedical engineering and how you can participate to help influence the direction of research and development.
BOB LANGER: Biomedical engineers try to address all kinds of, I think, exciting questions at the interface of medicine and engineering.
BIN HE: There’s so much unknown in the biological system.
ISA MONTEIRO: Biomedical engineering brings these two big fields of medicine and engineering together.
PAOLO BONATO: It’s a very broad field.
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.
Collaborating with Physicians
BIN HE: Biomedical engineering is not just a field for engineers, but also there’s a bio side.
ALEXANDER DOUD: The physicians who are working in the clinics every day are gonna see what the problems are. And the engineers may have already solved those problems and not even know they’re there.
IAHN CAJIGAS: Patients get whatever the engineers make, engineers make whatever they think the patients need.
BOB LANGER: The way I look at it is the physicians are able to ask great questions, and the engineers are able to come up with great answers. But if you just have one and not the other, you don’t solve them, because you don’t even know what to ask or don’t know how to answer them.
ROSS ZAFONTE: So we like to establish things as an iterative loop, a loop where people are going back from the laboratory to the clinic and then back to the lab again. Refining our questions.
PAUL IAIZZO: So it really helps to keep everybody’s research very relevant.
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: You can kind of get this teleportation right to the cutting edge of a field and be part of that discussion.
PAOLO BONATO: For physicians, being a part of EMBS provides an opportunity to be exposed to new technologies to provide feedback about the way we’re developing this technology within the engineering society.
PAUL IAIZZO: And I think it’s this partnering with all these different disciplines from these different careers that really is essential to move the field forward.
BIN HE: I feel I belong to an important professional network which is making a big impact to the society.
PAUL IAIZZO: It’s only exciting if research actually makes it off the benchtop and helps people.