Introducing Med-X

China’s newest research institute combines engineering, the life sciences, and the physical sciences to solve pressing problems in biomedicine

Above: Group photo of IEEE EMBS International Summer School.

Interdisciplinary research involving biomedicine, engineering and the physical sciences is critically important. Indeed, Dr. Susan Hockfield—President of MIT—has suggested that the third revolution of life sciences may be emerging as the life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering converge.

In keeping with this movement toward interdisciplinary research, China has established the Med-X Research Institute at Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU). The Institute has the mission of using engineering and the physicals sciences to conduct cutting edge translational research to solve pressing biomedical problems. Although SJTU may not be a household name around the world, the University is well-known in China. Its biomedical engineering program is consistently top-ranked and its medical institutions, including twelve large affiliated hospitals, are well-regarded. SJTU now has nearly forty thousand full time registered students.

When SJTU merged with the former Shanghai Second Medical University in 2005, one of its key strategies was to rapidly enhance its capacity to focus on interdisciplinary research. With the support of university leaders the Med-X Research Institute was established in November 2007. With the funding support of national ‘985 Project Grant’, the Institute was one of the key platforms for innovative scientific research at SJTU.

The Institute consists of eight joint research centers. They include: The Med-X-Ruijin Hospital microPET/CT Research Center; The Digital Medicine Research Center of The Ministry of Education; The Med-X-Renji Hospital Clinical Stem Cell Research Center; The Shanghai Med-X Medical Equipment Engineering Research Center; The Med-X-Sixth Hospital Shanghai Medical Equipment Research Center; The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center; The Med-X-Mental Hospital Neuroimaging Center; and finally the Nano Biomedical Research Center.

Among the projects coming out of Med-X are a high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) developed by Prof. Yazhu Chen’s group that is currently being evaluated for clinical therapy. Chen’s group also did the pioneering work in developing extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy systems, which now have been popularly used in hospitals in China. “Med-X is an incubator for biomedical translation instrumentation that needs collaboration from different disciplines,” says Prof Hongchen Gu, who is now the executive director of the Shanghai Engineering Research Center of Medical Equipment and Technology at Med-X. Gu’s lab holds several patents and CFDA approved licenses of point of care test (POCT) techniques.

Since the Institute was established, a number of researchers have become full-time faculty. Full-time principal investigators include Guo-Yuan Yang, a former faculty member from the University of California San Francisco; Prof. Lisa Xu, formerly of Purdue University; and Prof. Ning Lan, formerly of the University of Southern California. Currently there are 80 primary faculty members, including 19 full professors and 39 associate professors. Faculty members have received numerous accolades and honors, including membership in the National Academy of Engineering of China, Distinguished Professorships from both the national and municipal One-Thousand Talent Programs, National Outstanding Young Investigators, and the ‘Chang Jiang National Distinguished Professorships’. By the end of 2014, Med-X had more than 30 full time faculty and the same number of adjunct faculty members.

Organizational Structure of Med-X Research Institute.

Organizational Structure of Med-X Research Institute.

The translational and interdisciplinary mission of Med-X is clear with examples such as Dr. Peng Miao, co-founder of Dolphin Biotech (Shanghai) and now also an assistant professor at Shanghai University. During Miao’s Ph.D. study at Med-X, he worked closely with Med-X physicists, clinicians and biologists. After his Ph.D. studies, he made several prototype systems for optical vascular imaging and set up his company to commercialize it.

Relying on SJTU’s strengths in engineering and medicine, the graduate program of the Med-X Research Institute focuses on training. The program emphasizes cultivating students’ ability to apply their knowledge of physics, material science, chemistry, information technology, and engineering to solve biomedical problems, to gain solid foundations in basic theories and specialties and to improve their creative thinking and effective academic communication skills as well as leadership skills.

The School of Biomedical Engineering at SJTU has promoted international cooperation and student exchanges, inviting international faculty each year to participate in teaching. It has also developed many joint degree graduate programs with a number of foreign universities including Drexel University and Northwestern University in the United States, Heidelberg University in Germany, Loughborough University in England, and the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, among others. In order to enrich the academic atmosphere at the school, there are several academic activities solely for the graduate students, such as ‘Graduate Student Research Day’. This one-day annual Research Day is an event in which students present their latest research and design, in posters or slides.

As part of its mission to nurture interdisciplinary collaboration with an international focus, Med-X is closely working with the IEEE EMBS Shanghai chapter. The faculty of the Med-X, e.g, Prof. Shanbao Tong and Prof. Lisa Xu, were the founders of the IEEE EMBS chapter. In July, Med-X and IEEE EMBS Shanghai Chapter jointly hosted the first IEEE EMBS International Summer School on Neural Engineering (ISSNE). ISSNE’13 was focused on translational neural engineering, with an emphasis on neuroimaging and brain-computer interface. There were over 100 applications from Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Australia, from which ISSNE’13 offered admission to nearly 50 students after careful review by the standing steering committee. Also, more than ten students won travel awards. ISSNE’13 invited distinguished faculty from the Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland), Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), University of Minnesota (Minneapolis), Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio), Tsinghua University (Beijing, China), the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong, China), and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Shanghai, China) to give lectures and seminars. A variety of frontier research topics were covered in the lectures and seminars, including brain computer interface, functional electrical stimulation, visual prosthesis, neuroimaging, and more.

Although Med-X is relatively new on the biomedical scene, it appears that it may represent an important step in translating groundbreaking research into commercial products. Scientists—both within and outside of China—are sure to be watching closely in coming years.