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UT Austin Biomedical Engineering professor Nicholas Peppas, Sc.D. is among an alliance of 50 experts from 34 elite universities involved with a publication that reveals innovative engineering advancements across five vital domains.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for humanity. The Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (IEEE EMBS) recently published a detailed position paper on the field of biomedical engineering titled, “Grand Challenges at the Interface of Engineering and Medicine.

The paper lays the foundation for a concerted, worldwide effort to achieve technological and medical breakthroughs. Dr. Michael Miller, senior author of the paper and director of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University said that the authors aimed to create a roadmap for groundbreaking research to transform the landscape of medicine in the coming decade.

“It took more than three years for a group of us to meet, discuss and write summaries of all our ideas for the future. The final document published now gives a series of guidelines for addressing challenges and provide solutions that all biomedical engineers promote and support,” said Peppas.

The researchers identified five primary medical challenges that have yet to be addressed, yet with the use of advanced biomedical engineering approaches can improve human health.

Five Grand Challenges Facing Biomedical Engineering

  1. 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 consider 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.

  2. 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.”

  3. Revolutionizing neuroscience using artificial intelligence (AI) to engineer advanced brain-interface systems
    Using AI, researchers 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

The IEEE EMBS is the world’s largest international society of biomedical engineers. With more than 12,000 members residing in some 97 countries around the globe, IEEE EMBS fosters fellowships and provides access to best practices, new information, innovative ideas, and a variety of expert opinions focusing on biomedical engineering--one of science’s fastest growing fields. 

Article adapted From IEEE press release.