Author: jstevens

Bang goes big data

When you think of big data you probably think of powerful computers crunching numbers, not a brain biosensor. Tonight the lead story on the BBC Bang goes the Theory episode on Big Data is about the traumatic brain injury research by Professor Martyn Boutelle in the Department of Bioengineering, here at Imperial.

Here’s this link to a preview clip of tonight’s episode which gives you a taste of what is in store for tonight’s episode.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the science and engineering behind the biosensors, I would recommend this paper written by Professor Martyn Boutelle and Dr Michelle Rogers about “Real-Time Clinical Monitoring of Biomolecules”  and how continuous monitoring of clinical biomarkers offers the exciting possibility of new therapies that use biomarker levels to guide treatment in real time.

Why the future of bioengineering is so bright

The last stop on my US tour was the inspirational California Institute of Technology. Based in Pasadena, Caltech has been reported as the top university in the world for the last three years in the Times Higher Education University Global Rankings. Although these rankings usually focus on a particular area I would agree that there is something pretty special about Caltech. The Caltech outlook was epitomized for me by Professor Frances Arnold who said they are not just training students to become scientists or engineers, they are training them to become Nobel Prize winners.

With that ambition laid on the table it was refreshing to hear such a senior academic speak so enthusiastically about her research and the development of her research over time from her mechanical & aerospace engineering roots through chemical engineering to her current research on protein engineering.

UC Bioengineering

Over the last couple of days I have been to UC Berkeley, UCLA and USC, three University of California campus, and I think that the diversity within one state encapsulates the heterogeneous bioengineering landscape I have observed on my US tour.

At UC Berkeley they look more broadly at bioengineering, with particular expertise in synthetic biology, systems biology. The Department was founded in 1998 and is the youngest Department in engineering. UC Berkeley doesn’t have a medical school so they utilise the UC San Francisco medical school for clinical/engineering collaborations, biomedical engineering research at PhD level and through the translational medicine masters program.

Build upon your strengths

Yesterday I was at Stanford University and a key message came through in all three of my meetings, which was ‘build upon your strengths’.

The Department of Bioengineering was founded in 2003. But what I think is particularly unique about Stanford’s approach is that prior to the formation of the Department the cross-Faculty Bio-X was formed in 1998 and Biodesign in 2001. In most other universities the research theme has driven the formation of the Department, Stanford is different.

In my post about Johns Hopkins I mentioned that the Department of Bioengineering was part of both the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering, which I thought was unusual.

Advance and translation

UC Davis was my first stop on the Californian portion of my US trip. At UC Davis I met with Professor Angelique Louie and Professor Anthony Passerini.

The UC Davis bioengineering encapsulates a similar breadth to that of Imperial Bioengineering with opportunities for undergraduates to specialise in particular aspects of bioengineering as they progress to their senior years.

An interesting new addition to the undergraduate course is the TEAM prototyping lab which contains an exciting combination of six 3D printers, a 3D scanner, dedicated CAD computers, printed circuit board manufacturing, and laser machining on a range of materials.

TEAM stands for Translating Engineering Advances to Medicine, and the design course that utilises the facility is also innovative.

From East to West

I have now finished my first week of the US bioengineering trip. This post is a synopsis of what I have learnt so far.

1. The UK and the USA landscape of bioengineering isn’t as different as I had expected.

2. There is heterogeneity in the bioengineering departments, with different Departments focusing on different aspects of bioengineering. Most interestingly on this front was the different meaning of bioengineering to each institution, sometimes subtle other times less so in the case of MIT where they have taken a unique approach to biological engineering.

3. Invention, innovation and design are all growing areas of interest in bioengineering education out here.

We are bilingual

Professor Youseph Yazdi, Executive Director of the Centre for Bioengineering Innovation and Design at Johns Hopkins University describes biomedical engineers as bilingual with an ability to speak both the language of medicine and the language of engineering, a hybrid in the engineering world.

Recognition of this bilingual nature comes through the Department of Bioengineering at Johns Hopkins University being both in the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering. For Professor Yazdi biomedical engineering is the application of engineering tools and mindset to biological problems. He really believes, and I would agree, that bioengineers think differently. Johns Hopkins is reported as the top biomedical engineering/ bioengineering department in the USA.

A well rounded student

In my first few months at Imperial I learnt that there is something quite special about our students. But I often wondered whether this was due to Imperial or to biomedical engineering. It’s probably a combination of the two, but what my discussion with Professor Clark Hung at Columbia illustrated to me was that there is something special about biomedical engineering students.

The relative gender equality of undergraduate biomedical engineering is an anomaly in an engineering school that has been consistent at every institution I have visited so far. But it isn’t really that surprising that girl’s would be attracted to a discipline where they can apply their skills and interest in physics and maths to real-life scenarios such as developing a new prosthetic limb, rehabilitation device or an improved drug-delivery mechanism.

Innovation, invention, industry and impact

Day 2 was the tale of the four I’s innovation, invention, industry and impact. All words we are aware of in the UK but the people I met at Northeastern University and MIT today are doing things a little bit differently.

From a bioengineering perspective I have already realised that it is a very heterogeneous landscape here in the USA. MIT have their very specific approach BU theres and Northeastern a different approach again.

Northeastern’s Department of Bioengineering was officially founded in January 2014, that’s not a typo that really was last month. Previously there has been, as in other institutions a lot of biomedical engineering research undertaken in different engineering Departments.

The beginning…

Monday February 24th marked the first day of my two week tour of US bioengineering institutions and a fascinating start it has been.

I began my day at MIT where Professor Doug Lauffenburger had arranged a comprehensive schedule of meetings for me to gain an insight about bioengineering at MIT.

At MIT they approach bioengineering from the biological angle, as Professor Lauffenburger described to me in the morning each engineering discipline has a scientific knowledge base with a range of applications. However bioengineering has traditionally approached it differently with a broad foundation in a range of disciplines including maths, physics, chemistry and biology but with one primary application area of healthcare/ medicine.