Special edition: Engineers, Physicians Collaborate to Improve Human Health
Special edition: Engineers, Physicians Collaborate to Improve Human Health
Jacobs School of Engineering logo
February 2019

Engineers and Physicians
We collaborate to improve human health
Here at UC San Diego, our engineers and computer scientists work directly with physicians every day. Engineers and clinical researchers working together is certainly not new, but at UC San Diego we have the distinct advantages of proximity and collaborative culture. UC San Diego Health, with its world class schools of medicine and pharmacy, cancer center, clinical research enterprise, and so much more, is literally right next door to the Jacobs School of Engineering.
In terms of research at the interface of engineering and medicine, I’m proud to report that we are launching a new agile research center at the Jacobs School that will develop and leverage nano-scale tools to engineer the immune system for a wide range of preventive and therapeutic applications. Preventing and fighting cancer, cardiovascular disease, antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and autoimmune diseases are just a few examples. More details on this new center to come in future communications. It is one the many ways that we work across disciplines to make bold possible.
~Albert P. Pisano, Dean
UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering
Institute of Engineering in Medicine turns 10
One of the ways researchers at the Jacobs School of Engineering and UC San Diego Health connect to solve problems together is the Institute of Engineering in Medicine, which recently celebrated 10 years of great work. This institute builds on UC San Diego’s cross-disciplinary research culture. It connects engineers and physicians with the goal of improving health care delivery through next-generation tools and technologies. “The Institute is a campus-wide initiative to synergize our unique strengths in engineering and medicine—two fields in which we have top-ranking faculty and resources at UC San Diego,” says Shu Chien, MD, PhD, professor of bioengineering and medicine, and founding director of the Institute of Engineering in Medicine at UC San Diego. Hear more from Chien in this 10th anniversary video
Funding engineering-physician research teams
Matching physicians and engineers, and then providing seed funding, are two critical tasks that take place through UC San Diego’s Galvanizing Engineering in Medicine (GEM) program. UC San Diego clinicians identify unmet needs in patient care and then work with teams of engineers to solve the problem and move the technology to the clinic. Each year, four physician-engineer teams from UC San Diego are funded. The latest projects include removing the time-lag in telerobotic surgery, improving pancreatic cancer treatment, and developing a neuro-electronic spinal cord implant to treat paralysis. This is a collaboration between the Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) and the Institute of Engineering in Medicine, and facilitated by the UC San Diego Office of Research Affairs.
We train clinical engineers
Jacobs School undergraduates have opportunities to identify and then address real needs in clinical settings. One example: our “Clinical Bioengineering” course. In this class, engineering undergraduates shadow physicians, learn about problems in their clinical practice, and develop engineering-based solutions to bridge the gap between bench and bedside. Students have obtained funding to turn their solutions into reality. A smart shoe insole called SoleMate, which optimizes lower-extremity rehabilitation, is one example. “This class goes a step further than hands-on and gives students the opportunity to identify and work on problems currently affecting physicians,” said bioengineering professor Adam Engler, who runs the course.
Tech transfer: engineering + medicine 
While breakthroughs are great, at the Jacobs School, we are focused on transferring our innovations to the real world where they can benefit people. The Institute for the Global Entrepreneur is the hub for entrepreneurship education and commercialization programs at the Jacobs School. Current companies at the interface of engineering and medicine include the following: BioJam Technologies is developing a low-cost medical device to reduce surgical trauma to patients while advancing the capabilities of surgeons during minimally invasive surgery. Cari Therapeutics is a digital health company developing bio-sensor technologies to improve treatments for substance abuse. Veocor Diagnostics is developing personalized diagnosis of stroke risk technologies which analyze echocardiographic images through the cloud. 
Spinal cord injury reversal
A team of nanoengineers and neuroscientists at UC San Diego have developed 3D printed implants that could one day help restore neural connections and lost motor function in patients with spinal cord injury. The implants, filled with neural stem cells, serve as soft bridges that guide new nerve cells to grow across a tear or break in an injured spinal cord. New work, published in Nature Medicine, shows promise in rats with severe spinal cord injury. Press coverage included Wired, IEEE Spectrum, The San Diego Union Tribune and Chemical & Engineering News.
Biomaterials for regenerative medicine
Biomaterials that can promote tissue repair and regeneration on their own without the need for delivering cells or other therapeutics have emerged as a potentially powerful paradigm for regenerative medicine. That’s one of the key statements in a Perspective piece written by Jacobs School bioengineering professor Karen L. Christman in the Jan. 24 issue of the journal Science. Christman’s lab has a strong translational focus with the main goal of developing minimally invasive therapies for cardiovascular disease. Projects are highly interdisciplinary and involve collaborations with basic scientists, engineers and physicians. Christman is also a co-founder of Ventrix, a startup that is bringing to the clinic some of the technologies developed in her research group.
White blood cells programmed to fight cancer
UC San Diego bioengineers and surgeons are working together to develop a treatment for pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal forms of human cancer. The approach involves reprogramming a type of white blood cell, called monocytes, to target and eradicate pancreatic cancer tumors. The collaboration involves the UC San Diego labs of Michael Bouvet, MD, professor of surgery in the Division of Surgical Oncology and bioengineering professor Peter Wang. The team recently received a Galvanizing Engineering in Medicine award from UC San Diego.
Long-distance surgery 
An engineering-surgery team at UC San Diego is working to extend the reach of surgeons by allowing them to operate remotely on patients located across a city, country, or even the globe. This kind of telesurgery, however, is not performed today. The major hurdle? The signal delay when transmitting commands from a surgeon’s console to the robot at the patient’s bedside, and the video back to the surgeon. The team is working on augmented reality systems that could eliminate the delay roadblock. The team is also working on visual-haptic feedback that predicts and displays how much force remotely controlled instruments are applying to tissues.
Will you get arrhythmia after a heart attack?
A team led by UC San Diego bioengineers has identified a genetic pathway that causes some individuals to develop an abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, after experiencing a heart attack. They have also identified a drug candidate that can block this pathway. The researchers from UC San Diego and The Scripps Research Institute reported their findings in Nature Biomedical Engineering. “We now know one reason why a significant fraction of the public could develop secondary complications post heart attack, like an arrhythmia,” said bioengineering professor Adam Engler. “We have identified the adverse reactions that cause this comorbidity in certain patients and can begin to develop drugs to treat and prevent it."
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