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New Horizons: From Vision to Impact

Society News
Author: Metin Akay

A Message from the EMBS President

Metin Akay, President of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society

Over the past two years, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and the associated coronavirus disease (COVID-19), have greatly impacted our lives. This pandemic has revealed how our healthcare systems were not prepared for this major challenge, especially with respect to treatment, rapid diagnosis, and tracking, as well as limited hospital equipment, staff members, and resources. COVID-19 will be one of the deadliest pandemics in modern history and continues to strain resources available not only to healthcare workers, but also the general public, while the number of infected people and cases continues to drastically increase daily, especially within the United States and Europe.

Furthermore, we believe the lack of a global collaborative strategy has hindered community attempts to “flatten the curve”–slow the spread of the virus, prevent mortality, and lessen the economic burden of this disease globally. There is an unmet and urgent need for stronger global partnership, healthcare reform, and more equitable vaccine and data distribution to combat the current pandemic and prevent future ones. This lack of global partnership and vaccination-equity has directly led to the rise of additional variants, including delta and omicron. Therefore, a comprehensive and global vaccination plan is urgently needed to prevent additional variants, which could challenge current vaccines, and contain the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Achieving Despite Our Challenges

In spite of all the pandemic challenges, with the amazing resilience, dedication, and support of our members, we were able to continue having technical activities and conferences virtually, including IEEE Special Topic conferences–in particular, the IEEE-EMBS Conference on Neural Engineering (NER’21) and the IEEE International Conference on Biomedical and Health Informatics (BHI 2021). NER’21 was held on 4-6 May, and the conference hosted seven keynote speakers with the participation of 643 people. The aim of the conference theme was to highlight breakthrough advances in novel engineering tools for elucidating brain function and neurotechnologies for the restoration and enhancement of impaired sensory, motor, and cognitive functions. BHI 2021 was held virtually, 27-30 July, with the participation of seven exceptional keynote speakers and more than 400 people. The aim of the conference was to promote and foster informatics and computing in healthcare and life sciences. The conference focused on “reshaping healthcare through advanced AI-enabled health informatics for a better quality of life.”

The 43rd Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBC) was held on 1-5 November, 2021. The aim of the conference was to address the challenges of bringing healthcare innovations into clinical practice quickly. The conference theme focused on “Changing Global Health Care in the Twenty-First Century.” Four exceptional conference and 12 theme keynote speakers highlighted the event, as well as several outstanding special sessions with the participation of 2500 people.

The 2020 Public Forum on COVID-19 Health Care, Screening, Tracking and Treatment attracted 1200 participants.

We have already begun a few new initiatives including public forums to share knowledge and stimulate discussion about pressing health care concerns, and to discuss how engineering innovations can be translated into practice to produce effective solutions to these grand challenges. In November 2020, we led the IEEE-EMBS Public Forum on COVID-19 Health Care, Screening, Tracking, and Treatment with the participation of 29 globally well-respected plenary speakers and more than 1200 participants (Figure 1). The second virtual forum was a paradigm-shifting event on Data Sci¬ence and Engineering in Healthcare with more than 2000 participants, held 10-13 February, 2021 (Figure 2). The event featured 36 global scholars and leaders from the health care industry, research institutions, and academia in four symposiums highlighting medical imaging, precision medicine, digital health care, and the brain and neural system, and more than half of these speakers were women and ethnic minorities.

The Data Science and Engineering in Healthcare Forum brought together 36 global leaders to present new research and current challenges.

In August, the public forum on Healthcare Industry Trends: Care, Innova¬tions, and Entrepreneurship–showcasing 28 industry leaders–was held in the areas of medical devices, biopharma, medical imaging, biotechnology, life sciences, and neurotechnology. Again, in line with our society’s goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, more than half of the speakers were women and ethnic minorities. This event may have been the first and most comprehensive gathering of healthcare leaders in any biomedical engineering conference to date (Figure 3). We also organized the second IEEE-EMBS Brain, Mind, and Body (BMB) Symposium and Workshop, co-sponsored by the IEEE BRAIN Initiative, with the participation of nine plenary speakers and 700 participants. The aim of the event was to focus on more futuristic integration of unobtrusive and minimally invasive neurotechnology and medicine, cognitive neural engineering and natural intelligence, as well as translational neural engineering for health and wellness.

In August 2021, the Healthcare Industry Trends: Care, Innovations, and Entrepreneurship public forum showcased 28 industry leaders from wide-ranging areas of biomedical engineering.

Throughout 2021, the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical and Health Informatics (JBHI) has been the leading journal in biomedical informatics with an annual submission rate of more than 2100 articles (~36% increase over 2019) and a current impact factor standing at 5.23 (~24% increase over 2019).

Looking Forward

We plan to organize several new technical activities in 2022. First, the IEEE-EMBS Public Forum on Genome Engineering and Biomanufacturing will be held in La Jolla, CA in March 2022, co-sponsored by the UCSD Bioengineering and UH Biomedical Engineering Departments. The aim of the forum is to highlight and discuss the challenges and opportunities in genome engineering and manufacturing (GEM). The forum will focus on organics and fuel, pharmaceuticals, biologics, cells and organoids, agricultural applications, physiological systems, and tissue and immune engineering sources.

The 7th EMBS special topic conference on point-of-care technologies (HI-POCT) will be held in Houston, 10-11 March, 2022. The event is co-sponsored by the Texas A&M EnMed, Texas A&M BME department, Houston Methodist, the University of Houston BME Department, and the Rice University Bioengineering Department. The focus of the conference will be on healthcare innovations from idea to patient care.

The next public forum on Healthcare Innovations in Clinical Practice will be held in April 2022 with the participation of several exceptional clinicians who invent and/or use new innovations in clinics. The four special symposiums will focus on how healthcare innovations can be used in clinics to improve health and wellness; prevent, treat, and manage chronic, infectious diseases and health outcomes; as well as the education of a new generation of physicians with engineering-driven medical curriculum.

In addition, we plan to have a new Public Forum on Global Healthcare Innovations in Botswana, October 2022. The aim of the forum is to highlight and discuss current and emerging healthcare opportunities and challenges and identify new directions in the fields of Global Healthcare. The four special symposiums will mainly focus on Biotechnology and Life Sciences for Diagnostics; Telemedicine, Digital Health & Informatics for Health Monitoring; Low-cost Wearable Medical Devices in Low-Resource Settings; and Next Generation Global Healthcare Education, Leaders, and Practitioners.

We will host the 44th IEEE EMBC from 11-15 July, 2022, in Glasgow, UK. The theme for the conference is: “Biomedical engineering transforming the provision of health care: Promoting wellness through personalized & predictable provision at the point of care.” The event will focus on point-of-care technologies (HI-POCT) for healthcare, emphasizing funding opportunities while exploring the promise and pitfalls of the journey from idea to patient use. The IEEE-EMBS special topic conference on BHI-BSN will be held this year in October in Ioannina, Greece. I truly hope that we will have the opportunity to meet in person at EMBC 2022 and IEEE-EMBS BHI-BSN 2022.

In addition, we will continue to strengthen our technical activity committees and International Student Conferences, support local chapters and clubs, and develop clinical connections that will appeal to students and post-docs studying and researching in the many diverse areas of biomedical engineering. The IEEE EMBS Reviews in Biomedical Engineering (R-BME) will get its well-deserved impact factor in June 2022, and we expect to receive the impact factor for the IEEE Open Journal of the Engineering in Medicine and Biology (OJEMB) in the following year.

The IEEE EMBS is the largest international organization that brings together engineers, physicians, and scientists to address global challenges. I believe that our annual EMBC, special topic conferences on Neural Engineering, BHI-BSN, along with the IEEE EMBS Public Forums are instrumental for continuing to build a platform that strengthens our collective capability to exchange ideas as well as share, access, and manage data, models, and the latest reports on global healthcare research.

We are dedicated to promoting female scientists and engineers by encouraging involvement, especially in our conferences and publications, as well as in technical and membership activities and committees at all levels. Furthermore, I will continue to honor my pledge and we will actively recruit and invite a diverse membership to fulfill leadership roles in our society, and will provide opportunities and recognition for their contributions to our community.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, peaceful, and productive new year! I believe that we will see many “beautiful and sunny days” in the year to come.

Metin Akay is the President of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and the Founding Chair and John S. Dunn Endowed Chair, Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA.

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