National Engineers Week - February 21-27, 2021

Blue banner with text that reads engineer your world, National Engineers Week February 21 through 27

It's National Engineers Week. Explore innovative solutions to global health challenges created by NIBIB-funded biomedical engineers. 

Medical Interventions

Bioengineers continue to develop innovative technologies to improve medical interventions. These include 3D-printed models of patient organs used for presurgical planning, nerve stimulating technologies that manage pain without opioids, and improved tools for minimally invasive and robotic surgical procedures.

Every year thousands of Americans, mostly over age 75, require replacement of their aortic valve. Now 3D printed patient-specific models of the aorta can aid presurgical planning and improve outcomes of minimally invasive valve replacement.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin (UW) are adapting a minimally invasive, safer approach to electrically treat pain directly at the source as part of the NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative.

A new technique funded by NIBIB and developed by University of Minnesota researchers allows 3D printing of hydrogel-based sensors directly on the surface of organs, such as lungs—even as they expand and contract. The technology was developed to support robot-assisted medical treatments.

Tissue Engineering

Tissue engineers work to combine scaffolds, cells, and biologically active molecules that can be implanted into damaged tissues to restore tissue structure and function. Non-therapeutic applications include the development of tissue chips, often referred to as a lab-on-a-chip, to study biological processes and test the effects of experimental medications, which can reduce the need for testing in animal models.

Bioengineers have created a 3D-printed scaffold designed to regenerate complex tissues composed of multiple layers of cells with different biological and mechanical properties.

Research into what is known as the gut-brain axis continues to reveal how the brain and gut influence each other’s health and well-being. Now researchers are endeavoring to learn more about gut-brain discourse using a model system built in a lab dish.

The Tissue Chips in Space initiative is an ambitious collaborative endeavor that brings NIBIB, NCATS, and the ISS U.S. National Laboratory together to rapidly advance tissue chip technology for biomedical research.

Computational Modeling

Computational modeling is the use of computers to simulate and study complex systems using mathematics, physics, and computer science—allowing scientists to conduct thousands of simulated experiments by computer. Today’s computational models can study a biological system at multiple levels that include molecular processes, cell to cell interactions, and changes in tissues and organs in health and disease.

To counter drug resistance, scientists must engineer new drugs to kill mutated cancer cells or pathogens. Now, Penn State engineers have developed a new approach for predicting which mutation has expanded the most in a population and should be targeted to design the most effective new drug.

Most medicines work by binding to and blocking the effect of disease-causing molecules. Now, to accelerate the identification of potential new medicines, bioengineers have created a computer model that mimics the way molecules bind.

NIBIB-funded engineers are designing polymer heart valves refined by computer simulations. The goal is to optimize performance of these valves in in an effort to improve outcomes and enable increased use of a minimally-invasive method for valve replacement over the current practice of open heart surgery.

Optical Imaging

Optical imaging uses light and special properties of photons to obtain detailed images of organs, tissues, cells and even molecules. The techniques offer minimally or non-invasive methods for looking inside the body. Because it is much safer than techniques that require ionizing radiation, like x-rays, optical imaging can be used for repeated procedures to monitor the progression of disease or the results of treatment.

Bioengineers have combined standard microscopy, infrared light, and artificial intelligence to assemble digital biopsies that identify important molecular characteristics of cancer biopsy samples.

Scientists at NIBIB have developed new image processing techniques for microscopes that can reduce post-processing time up to several thousand-fold.

Women undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer are checked for tumor cells that may have spread to surrounding tissues, but current technologies miss very small metastatic areas. Now a laser microscopy technique is able to identify these regions with great accuracy.

Drug Delivery

Drug delivery systems are engineered technologies for the targeted delivery and/or controlled release of therapeutic agents. Biomedical engineers continue to develop new modes of drug delivery that better target the site of drug delivery, are more efficiently taken up by the individual cells of the target tissue and can control the rate at which a drug is released and metabolized within cells.

NIBIB-funded researchers have created nanoparticles for successful gene therapy of a mouse model of macular degeneration. The nanoparticle carriers have the potential to significantly expand the effectiveness of gene therapies for human eye diseases, including blindness.

Promising intracellular protein-based therapeutics have been of limited use due to the difficulty of delivery into diseased cells. Now bioengineers have developed nanoparticles that can deliver these therapeutics to their targets—avoiding degradation and toxic interactions with healthy tissues.

Millions of people are treated with antibiotics each year for infections or as a preventative measure. Two teams of NIBIB-funded scientists have been working to find alternative solutions for treating bacterial infections, especially antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Artificial Intelligence

Engineers are using artificial intelligence to improve diagnosis and treatment of disease. Examples include the use of deep neural networks to analyze CT lung scans for better detection and staging of lung cancer nodules; pairing high density EEG and AI to track the origin and path of epileptogenic seizure zones in the brain; and using machine learning to identify the hallmark signatures of COVID-19 infection in the lungs with the aim of identifying and improving treatment of individuals with severe disease.

NIBIB-funded researchers at Stanford University have created an artificial neural network that analyzes lung CT scans to provide information about lung cancer severity that can guide treatment options.

The National Institutes of Health has launched an ambitious effort to use artificial intelligence, computation, and medical imaging to enable early disease detection, inform successful treatment strategies, and predict individual disease outcomes of COVID-19.

Understanding the source and network of signals as the brain functions is a central goal of brain research. Now, Carnegie Mellon engineers have created a system for high-density EEG imaging of the origin and path of normal and abnormal brain signals.