Thursday, January 7, 2016

Engineering professors share their big ideas for 2016—and beyond

The new year is a time to take stock of past accomplishments, and UC San Diego has no shortage of those. We once again surpassed $1 billion in research funding in 201415, an extraordinary accomplishment that places us among the top five research universities in the nation. And we put that research funding to good usein 2015, Washington Monthly once again ranked UC San Diego as the No. 1 university in the nation for its positive impact.

The new year is also a time to look forward to what we want to accomplish next. Here, professors from the Jacobs School of Engineering share their "big ideas" for revolutionizing research and education for the benefit of human health and society.

3D-print patient-compatible organs and tissues for transplants

Shaochen Chen, professor in the Department of NanoEngineering and co-director of the Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering Center

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are in need of organ transplants. Unfortunately, organs for transplants are in short supply and even when they are available, there are risks of transplant rejection due to significant molecular and biological differences between the donor and the patient. 3D bioprinting is an ideal technology to create patient-specific tissues or organs, especially when human-induced pluripotent cells from the same patient are used for tissue growth. “If we could encourage more interdisciplinary collaboration among bioengineers, materials scientists, biologists, and clinical doctors to focus on 3D printing patient-specific functional tissues and organs, we could help more people get the lifesaving organ transplants they need before it’s too late,” says Chen. 

Develop microtechnologies to personalize treatment regimens

Shyni Varghese, professor in the Department of Bioengineering and director of the Bio-Inspired Materials and Stem Cell Engineering Laboratory

Drug responses vary significantly from patient to patient. Therefore, developing a therapeutic regimen tailored for each patient is critically important. “Today we can personalize everything from computers and phones to Facebook profiles, so why not medicine?” asks Varghese. “Let’s engineer patient-specific, three-dimensional ‘organs-on-a-chip’ from patients’ own stem cells. We can use these patient-specific test beds to identify the best combination of drugs and dosages to maximize therapeutic efficacy in each individual. Such next-generation technologies will revolutionize the standard of patient care and push the boundaries of medicine.” 

Build robots that provide surgeons with super-human capabilities

Michael Yip, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Advanced Robotics and Controls Lab

The practice of surgery has only ever been as good as the skills of the surgeon. Even the best surgeons are limited by what their own hands are able to achieve and can still make mistakes. But technology in this age is giving rise to robotics systems that are equipped with more capabilities and can perform various tasks with more precision than humans could ever achieve. "We routinely see popular media portray superheroes like Iron Man using robotics as a means of delivering massive power and destruction, and yet the reality is that robotics has the ability to improve the precision and delicate touch of surgeons beyond what their own hands can do alone," says Yip. "I invite San Diego researchers and industry to work with me to develop new robot-assistive devices and systems that will provide surgeons with super-human abilitiesto navigate the body remotely and access anatomies they could not previously reach, to have augmented reality ‘X-ray vision’ to visualize subsurface lesions, and to perform surgeries with robotically enhanced, micromillimeter precision."

Check out more "big ideas" from other visionaries around campus in the story from This Week @ UC San Diego.

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