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A New, Comprehensive Roadmap for the Future of Biomedical Engineering

Pitt’s Sanjeev Shroff among 50 experts from 34 elite universities to publish “Grand Challenges at the Interface of Engineering and Medicine”

PISCATAWAY, NJ [February 22, 2024] – The field of biomedical engineering anticipates an amazing future for the field, its researchers, and students.

IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for humanity, and the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (IEEE EMBS), today published a detailed position paper on the field of biomedical engineering titled, “Grand Challenges at the Interface of Engineering and Medicine.” The paper, published in the IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology (IEEE OJEMB), was written by a consortium of 50 renowned researchers from 34 prestigious universities around the world, and lays the foundation for a concerted worldwide effort to achieve technological and medical breakthroughs.

Representing the University of Pittsburgh in the position paper is Sanjeev G. Shroff, Interim U.S. Steel Dean of the Swanson School of Engineering; Distinguished Professor of and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair in Bioengineering; and Professor of Medicine.

“What we’ve accomplished here will serve as a roadmap for groundbreaking research to transform the landscape of medicine in the coming decade,” said Dr. Michael Miller, senior author of the paper and professor and director of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. “The outcomes of the task force, featuring significant research and training opportunities, are poised to resonate in engineering and medicine for decades to come.”

Sanjeev G. Shroff_ Interim Dean of SSOE web

“Since the founding of our Department of Bioengineering 25 years ago, we have witnessed transformative advances and new technologies developed through partnerships between Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, School of Medicine, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Brain Institute, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC),” Dr. Shroff said.

“The field of biomedical engineering is at a critical juncture in its evolution, with a need to reflect on the past and identify singular challenges that will continue to improve the human condition, These new Grand Challenges, developed through a global debate, will help guide our academic programs and research as well as prepare the next generation of bioengineers.”

The position paper was the result of two years of discussion culminating in a two-day workshop organized by IEEE EMBS and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California San Diego. Through the course of the workshop, the researchers identified five primary medical challenges that have yet to be addressed, but by solving them with advanced biomedical engineering approaches, can greatly improve human health. By focusing on these five areas, the consortium has laid out a roadmap for future research and funding.

The 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 take into account 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, we can 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.

“This paper represents a major milestone in the advancement of biomedical engineering, which could only have been achieved through close collaboration rather than the work of many siloed individuals,” said consortium member Dr. Metin Akay, founding chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Houston and Ambassador of IEEE EMBS. “We have a shared commitment to advancing patient-centric technologies, and healthcare efficacy and accessibility – which extends beyond academic institutions – and elevating healthcare quality, reducing costs and improving lives worldwide.”

“These grand challenges offer unique opportunities that can transform the practice of engineering and medicine,” remarked Dr. Shankar Subramaniam, lead author of the taskforce, distinguished professor, Shu Chien-Gene Lay Department of Bioengineering at the University of California San Diego and past President of IEEE EMBS. “Innovations in the form of multi-scale sensors and devices, creation of humanoid avatars and the development of exceptionally realistic predictive models driven by AI can radically change our lifestyles and response to pathologies. Institutions can revolutionize education in biomedical and engineering, training the greatest minds to engage in the most important problem of all times – human health.”

This position paper was published in IEEE OJEMB, and can be accessed at this link.



About the IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology 
The IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology covers developing and applying engineering concepts and methods to biology, medicine, and health sciences to effectively solve biological, medical, and healthcare problems. For more information about OJEMB, please visit www.embs.org/ojemb.

About the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society 
The IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (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 is a truly global connection, fostering fellowship and providing access to fascinating people, best practices, new information, innovative ideas, and a variety of expert opinions from one of science’s fastest growing fields: biomedical engineering. From formalized mathematical theory through experimental science and from technological development to practical clinical applications, IEEE EMBS members support scientific, technical, and educational activities as they apply to the concepts and methods of the physical and engineering sciences in biology and medicine. By working together, we can transform and revolutionize the future of medicine and healthcare. For more information about the IEEE EMBS, please visit www.embs.org.