Engineering looks to continue collaborations

By Vivienne Henning

Engineering and medicine, on the surface, appear to be separate fields in separate colleges. But, the College of Engineering and the new College of Medicine — which will open in 2018 — are working together to have their students be involved in a curriculum that enables them to learn about both fieldsbr.

“The new generation of doctors who are graduating (will) understand the underlying engineering principles in many different physiological parts of human body and human functioning,” said Thenkurussi Kesavadas, the director of the Health Care Engineering Systems Center, HCESCbr.

The HCESC was set up on campus to bring engineers and doctors closer, to work together to find solutions to problems in the medicinal field. The center also enabled funding for faculty and students to be a part of research projects like Applied Research for Community Health through Engineering and Simulation, ARCHES.

“It’s collaborative work between us and with OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoriabr where we are set aside a big endowment to fund research projects where engineers and clinicians work together,” Kesavadas said. “We sit together and come up with challenges which can be solved using engineering. We’ve already funded six projects during the last two years.”

Gregory Damhorst, a recent University graduate with a Ph.D in bioengineering, focused his studies on diagnostic treatments for HIVbr. He said a lot of his training in graduate school started bringing together engineering principles with medically relevant subjects.

“In the bioengineering context, we started to think about the components of a biological cell or organism as tools and components that can perform a certain function,” Damhorst said, “Which then I can take advantage of as an engineer to build some kind of tools that incorporate components of biology. Then I can use that tool to better understand biology or achieve some kind of a practical purpose.”

Arif Masud, professor in civil and environmental engineeringbr, said that engineers have a more analytical point of view, and the medical community approaches it with its experience with data and statistics in mind.

“Analytical thinking would definitely be a benefit. It would reduce your trial and error and reduce the time it takes to have confidence in a certain treatment process,” Masud said. “Doctors are users of the technology that engineers develop. However, many times what a doctor would need and what an engineer perceives that they need, there’s a gap in it. If we bring all the players together, in that case the product will come out.”

Damhorst said an engineer’s approach to medicine will help in the long run, especially with areas that aren’t very well understood yet.

“The way we’re trained to think as engineers is with this idea of systems, that things are interconnected and when you perturb one aspect of a system it may have effects in other aspects and we want to be able to understand how that will affect the whole system,” he said.

A new master’s program is also being developed in the area of healthcare systems engineering. The idea is to give engineers more knowledge about health care and use their knowledge to make an impact on the world of health care.

“Health care is also one of the biggest parts of our economy. So anything that engineering can do to make it more efficient, and make it lower cost is going to have an impact on our overall economy,” Kesavadas said. “We want our engineering students and faculty to be more involved in health care so they can make our health care more affordable, more accessible.”

The main goal of all of the curriculum changes is to offer a wider curriculum to students and to establish a mindset that different fields of study can overlap and push each other along.

“Training future physicians with an engineering mindset with a certain affinity for technology, that’s going to make the future practice of medicine,” Damhorst said. “We’ll be able to more easily pick up on the technologies that can ultimately lead to treating people better (and) better outcomes in medicine.”

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