Last year, IEEE Pulse surveyed the scene in biomedical engineering to determine what new and developing trends were expected to dominate in the coming year. We accurately predicted the rise in prominence of neurotechnology, the increasing role of nanotechnology in diagnostics and drug delivery, the impact of the microbiome on human health, and the transformative power of the CRISPR gene-editing system. This year, we’ve taken a different approach and have tapped into our global network of regional editors to have them read the local tea leaves and prognosticate from their perspectives on the hot BME topics for 2015. Here’s what they had to say.
Shanbao Tong, professor of biomedical engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China
Hot Areas of Biomedical Research: An area to watch is the restoration of brain function after brain disease using novel neuromodulation techniques such as optogenetics and transcranial ultrasound stimulation.
Emerging Technology: Optogenetic tools have been used to promote neuronal growth after a stroke as well as deep brain stimulation (DBS) for neurodegenerative diseases—the first Chinese Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved DBS system in 2013 for Parkinson’s Disease has moved to clinical use, with more than 500 patients implanted with the device. A rechargeable device was approved by the Chinese FDA in July 2014 after seven years of research and development.
Major Players: Prof. Liping Wang from Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Science, is a pioneering researcher in optogenetics in China who was trained in Dr. Karl Deisseroth’s Lab at Stanford University. Another major player is Prof. Luming Li from Tsinghua University of China. He is the director of the Chinese National Engineering Laboratory for Neuromodulation Techniques.
Tong says: “These new neuromodulation techniques are superior to the conventional transcranial direct current stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation in both spatial and temporal resolution (<1 mm). They would significantly improve on the current neuromodulation-based therapeutics for brain disease. Also, another technique for neural modulation using transcranial ultrasound stimulation has been studied in several research institutes in China; it is likely to offer a novel noninvasive and high-spatiotemporal- resolution neuromodulation.”
Debdoot Sheet, assistant professor of electrical engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, India
Hot Areas of Biomedical Research: Frugal technological solutions will continue to evolve for high-throughput health care delivery in resource-constrained regions.
Emerging Technology: Three examples include: screening for retinopathy in premature babies using Internet-assisted telemedicine (http://www.kidrop.org); an intelligent ophthalmic prescreening device, 3nethra; and mobile-communication-empowered tuberculosis prevention through regular medication and patient recovery tracking (Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program).
Major Players: The major players include:
- Stanford India Biodesign incubated with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, and Stanford University, which focus on medical devices and implants
- the Center for Biodesign and Diagnostics incubated with the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, AIIMS, and the University of Turku, which focus on in vitro diagnostics
- the Healthcare Technology Innovation Center incubated with the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and the Department of Biotechnology in India’s Ministry of Science, which focuses on health technology
- bioengineering initiatives incubated with the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and the Department of Biotechnology, which focus on implants and bioengineering
- the National Biodesign Alliance, which coordinates across all these biodesign and biomedical innovation clusters and forms the pan-Indian network.
Sheet says: “India and South Asia have a complex demography. You can find the costliest of superspecialized private-sector health care service providers catering to a niche group located alongside meager publicsector health care service providers dealing, almost unequipped, with a large population. Since most diseases are tropical here and have the potential to spread rapidly, health care providers are increasingly realizing the need to develop economically viable frugal technologies to reach those living in remote areas with limited access to hospitals and clinics. Interestingly, these advances are mostly coming from a number of young players focused on frugal technological solutions who work under the aegis of entrepreneurship incubation clusters spread throughout India.”
Shoaib Bhuiyan, associate professor of medical information science, Suzuka University of Medical Science, Japan
Hot Areas of Biomedical Research: Medical virtual reality is one emerging area, mainly in image-guided surgery. Telesurgery now has the potential to change how routine surgery is performed, allowing surgeons to operate remotely from anywhere.
Emerging Technologies: Visual tracking devices and 3-D reconstruction tools are being developed for computer- assisted interventions.
Major Players: Prof. Naoki Suzuki and Associate Prof. Asaki Hattori from the privately funded Jikei University School of Medicine, Tokyo. They and many collaborators at the Institute for High Dimensional Medical Imaging are conducting medical virtual reality projects for use in image-guided surgery.
Bhuiyan says: “The 2-D standard, on the x- and y-axes, was widely used in medical imaging till the middle of the last decade. 3-D, which adds depth to include the x-, y-, and z-axes, came about due to computed tomography and provides actual spatial anatomy. The 4-D standard (x,y,z,t), combining space and time, emerged in the last decade due to the development of fast scanners. Now emerging is 5-D [technology] and beyond (x, y, z, t, f), which combines space, time, and any variety of functions, such as temperature, that can be measured together. These (additional) functions may not be true dimensions in the mathematical sense, but adding variables associated through space or time or both can make sense as they help [us] better understand medical images/videos. Prof. Suzuki’s institute is among those working to create the virtual reality future of medical imaging. The institute has invested in a broad array of medical virtual reality projects encompassing virtual surgery, 4-D imaging applications, telemedicine, and 3-D databases” (Figure 1).
Martha Lucía Zequera Díaz, associate professor of electrical engineering, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia
Hot Areas of Biomedical Research: Two hot topics are assistive technologies for human mobility rehabilitation, mainly in patients with joint and tissue diseases, and diabetic foot-screening technologies used to detect problems such as diabetic foot hyperthermia using infrared imaging.
Emerging Technologies: A novel body weight support technology for dynamic support with preserved pelvic and lower limbs kinematics. This technology solves the drawbacks of using pelvis and torso harnesses for body weight support, broadening the spectrum of impairments that can be included in rehabilitation protocols with assistive robotics, particularly for persons unable to walk or even stand, due to orthopedic conditions. Early diagnosis is a key factor in lessening the impact of diabetic foot complications—an emerging technology integrates computer medical systems based on medical image processing with computer-aided design/ computer-aided manufacturing systems for early diagnosis and treatment of the diabetic foot; also, a new technology to reduce the occurrence of foot ulcers using thermography image processing techniques.
Major Players: People and groups to watch include:
- Andrés Salguero, a former associate professor in the Electronics Department at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia, who is the founder of a startup for assistive technologies development
- the Foot Lab, Bioengineering, Signal Processing, and Image Processing BASPI Research Group from the Electronics Department, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana
- Universidad Pontificia Catolica del Peru for thermography image processing techniques.
Zequera says: “Modern lifestyles and an aging population are making diabetes mellitus and joint arthrosis more common. Both can cause longterm complications in lower-limb tissues, with a negative impact in mobility quality. These pathologies are chronic conditions that are increasingly present in the Latin American population, but emergent technologies such as assistive robotics and systems for early diagnosis of diabetic foot problems can improve the quality of life for people with such diseases.”
Andrew Taberner, associate professor of engineering science, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Hot Areas of Biomedical Research: Realistic computer animation and modeling, computational and theoretical neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and interactive computer graphics research are important areas.
Emerging Technology: Baby X, an interactive, responsive real-time model of a human baby, which responds to aural and visual stimuli, was created at the Laboratory for Animate Technologies. The model also allows the brain activity of the baby to be visualized, providing a visual link between the neurological processes being modeled by computational simulations and resulting behavior. Other related work that enables this technology is highly realistic facial models driving an understanding of the underlying biomechanics of the face and informed by data from image and motion capture systems.
Major Players: Associate Prof. Mark Sagar, formerly the special project director with the animation company Weta Digital, is now the head of the Laboratory for Animate Technologies at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland. Prof. Sagar has received two Academy Awards for his previous groundbreaking facial animation work for Weta Digital on the movies Avatar and King Kong. He has recently received funding for developing some of these ideas toward commercialization, with funding from the New Zealand Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment’s Smart Ideas fund.
Taberner says: “These techniques are likely to greatly enhance the realism and effectiveness of systems that require human–computer interaction and facial animation. Possible applications include tools for the treatment of disorders such as autism, human–machine interaction in health care robotics, surgical training, etc. The facial tracking software and computer models are computationally efficient enough to run on a desktop computer and are thus becoming viable for being embedded in consumer devices in health care or medicine.”